Air raid sirens sounded throughout the self-governing island of Taiwan during a tense time as a Chinese satellite passed over its airspace. The event added another level of complexity to the already tense relations between Taiwan and China, occurring just days before Taiwan’s vital elections on January 13. The Chinese-language mobile phone warning warned people to be cautious in light of the satellite launch.
The English-language version of the alert, however, raised eyebrows as it announced an “air raid alert” and warned of a “missile flyover Taiwan airspace.” The Taiwanese defense ministry later issued an apology, explaining that the default message in English had not been updated. Foreign Minister Joseph Wu clarified during a news conference in Taipei that the alert was related to a science satellite launch. He emphasized that when rockets are openly flying in the sky, debris or components might fall in the region, necessitating such alerts.
The latest astronomical satellite, called the Einstein Probe, was launched from Sichuan province, according to confirmation from China’s official news agency, Xinhua. The purpose of the satellite is to investigate enigmatic fleeting events in space, similar to fireworks. China, which is keeping a careful eye on the impending elections, was alarmed by the occurrence despite the satellite’s scientific significance.
The election results may have an effect on the already precarious situation in the Taiwan Strait, as China asserts its sovereignty over Taiwan. In the run-up to the elections, the Chinese government has kept up a nearly constant military presence in the Taiwan area, deploying fighter jets, naval boats, and drones. Taiwan’s current vice president, Lai Ching-te, is leading the race and has accused Beijing of using “all means” to sway the results, while China has described the polls as a decision between war and peace. The satellite launch event highlights the geopolitical difficulties that continue to shape Taiwan’s relationship with China as Taiwan gets ready for its democratic transition.