Chinese satellite launch triggers alarm in self-ruled Taiwan

The alert warns of a ‘missile flyover Taiwan’; however, Taiwan’s foreign minister assures people it was a satellite.

A person attending a Foreign Ministry's news conference holds a phone showing air raid alert about a Chinese satellite that had flown over south Taiwan airspace in Taipei
A person attending a Ministry of Foreign Affairs news conference holds a phone showing air raid alert about a Chinese satellite that had flown over south Taiwan airspace [Ann Wang/Reuters]

Taiwanese authorities have sent out an emergency message following the launch of a Chinese satellite over the self-ruled island’s airspace.

The mobile phone alert was sent on Tuesday as Chinese state media confirmed the launch of a science satellite. The alarm came amid preparations in Taiwan for elections on January 13.

China, which claims the island as its own, is watching closely and warns that the result could further raise tension in the Taiwan Strait.

“China launched [a] satellite which flew over the southern airspace,” said the alert sent out in Chinese. “Public, please beware of your safety.”

An English-language version announced it as an “air raid alert” and warned of a “missile flyover Taiwan airspace”.

However, the defence ministry later apologised for the mistake, saying the default message in English had not been updated.

The alert came as Foreign Minister Joseph Wu was holding a news conference in Taipei ahead of the presidential and parliamentary elections on Saturday.

He assured those present that the alert was for a satellite.

“When a rocket is openly flying in our sky, some of their tubes or debris will fall in this region,” Wu told reporters. “That’s the reason why our national alert centre will issue this kind of alert. It has happened before.”

Chinese state news agency Xinhua said China had launched “a new astronomical satellite” called the Einstein Probe from the southwestern province of Sichuan.

The satellite will be used to make observations such as “mysterious transient phenomena in the universe comparable to the flickering of fireworks”.

China has had a near-daily military presence around Taiwan in the run-up to the election, with fighter jets, naval vessels and drones spotted in or above the narrow stretch of water that separates the two territories.

Frontrunner Lai Ching-te, Taiwan’s current vice president, has accused Beijing of using “all means” to influence the vote.

China has described the election as a choice between war and peace.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies