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Why Chinese spy balloons are back in force over Taiwan  on January 29, 2024 at 11:00 am

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China is stepping up a campaign to coerce and intimidate Taiwan, sending batches of spy balloons over the self-governing island nation that flouted Beijing’s warning with the election of a pro-U.S. president earlier this month. 

The spy balloons flew into Taiwanese airspace almost daily before and after Taiwan’s Jan. 13 presidential elections, part of what analysts see as a new effort to weaken Taiwanese independence. 

On this side of the Atlantic, the flyovers were a reminder of China’s spy balloon that floated over the U.S. mainland last year and blew up relations between Washington and Beijing for months. Beijing claimed at the time the dirigible was a wayward weather balloon — a claim made all the more far-fetched given the calculated use of the surveillance balloons over Taiwan. 

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Kristen Gunness, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, views China’s aerial actions as an “extension” of the air and maritime pressure campaign and a “signal about increased surveillance,” but she argued the tension is unlikely to escalate any further.

“Balloons are a big deal, but it’s not enough of one to be able to — especially if Taiwan isn’t doing anything about it — to provoke a conflict or crisis,” she said. 

However, experts are seriously worried about China eventually taking more aggressive action against the island, which it considers historically part of the mainland — especially after Taiwan’s voters delivered a blow to Beijing. 

U.S. Adm. John Aquilino, the commander of Indo-Pacific Command, predicted China would step up its aggression following the election.

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“When something occurs that they don’t like, they tend to take actions,” he said at a Pacific Forum conference event this month after the Taiwan elections. 

U.S. officials have warned that rather than invade, China is likely to increase pressure on Taiwan for now. Washington has issued a warning that any military action may come in 2027, the year Chinese leader Xi Jinping has said his forces should be ready. 

A new report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies showed most experts believe a “soft quarantine” or a blockade of Taiwan is more likely than an invasion, though that scenario could escalate into a military conflict. 

Gunness said China is dealing with domestic issues, including a tanking economy, that makes action unlikely this year or in the immediate future unless there is a major, unforeseen escalation like Taiwan declaring independence. 

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“China may just stay the course for a while because it doesn’t want to rock the boat with the U.S.,” she said. “That said, I do think that China will continue … what it’s been doing, which is basically conduct air and maritime operations around Taiwan to show that they can control the maritime and airspace.” 

Chinese spy balloons seized the world’s attention last year when one flew over the continental U.S. in February for days before an American fighter jet shot it out of the sky and into the Atlantic Ocean. 

The bulbous, white balloon weighed some 2,000 pounds and was 200 feet tall — with a payload that included antennas and surveillance equipment. The U.S. cast doubt on Beijing’s explanation that it was a weather balloon gone adrift. 

China has used the spy balloons for years to spy on the U.S., Japan, Taiwan and other nations in a program the U.S. says is global in scope. 

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But the latest efforts in Taiwan have seen China deploy a particularly large number of spy balloons, with sometimes up to six balloons flying into Taiwanese airspace in one day, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense. 

China already has eyes and ears over Taiwan and the balloons are unlikely to be practically useful for surveillance. 

Instead, the balloons are part of a Chinese tactic to diminish Taiwanese independence, said Ho-fung Hung, a political economy professor and East Asia expert at Johns Hopkins University. 

“They are basically trying to squeeze the airspace and then blur the line between Taiwan and mainland China as much as possible to establish a kind of status quo in which this kind of integration between Taiwan and China is no longer concrete or clear,” he said. 

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“They are creating a status quo in which there’s no clear boundary anymore.” 

In the past few days, the balloons stopped flying over Taiwan as frequently, but they also stopped in mid-January before picking up again.  

The flyovers occur along with China sending aircraft into Taiwanese airspace in regular intrusions that have occurred for years. 

The Institute for the Study of War warned in a Thursday analysis that China will try to “normalize using balloons in tandem with other aerial and naval” violations of Taiwanese territory “to wear down Taiwan’s threat awareness.” 

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President-elect Lai Ching-te’s victory in the elections this month is a loss to China, which had backed a candidate seeking closer Beijing ties with the Kuomintang (KMT) party. 

Lai is the current vice president in the administration of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, and its Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has now won a historic third consecutive term. 

While Lai once talked of declaring independence, he became more measured during his campaign, saying the status quo works because Taiwan operates independently anyway. 

Lai said in his victory speech that Taiwan opened a “new chapter” in its democracy. 

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“We are telling the international community that between democracy and authoritarianism, we will stand on the side of democracy,” he said. 

But the election was not a total loss for China; the opposing KMT party won a majority in the Parliament. 

President Biden and China’s Xi discussed Taiwan during a November meeting in San Francisco and agreed to restore military communications. The leaders of the two world superpowers did not make a breakthrough or resolve existing tensions, with Xi reportedly telling Biden that China will reunify with Taiwan. 

Robert York, the director for regional affairs at the Pacific Forum, said the U.S. and China “fundamentally” remain at odds over key issues such as Taiwan, but the countries remain in a “reprieve” since the Biden-Xi meet. 

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“The Taiwan elections have not caused a significant downturn in those relations as of yet,” he said, “but the [Chinese Communist Party], Xi Jinping, they’ve been quite clear that their position on Taiwan has not changed.” 

The U.S. sent an unofficial delegation to Taipei after Lai’s victory and two U.S. lawmakers traveled to the island nation this week. 

The spate of balloon launches is unlikely to push the U.S. or Taiwan to any action. Taipei scrambles aircraft when China intrudes over Taiwanese airspace but chooses not to engage to avoid provoking Beijing. 

Col. Wang Chia-chun, the deputy head of Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense, said earlier this month it was not worth shooting down the balloons because it would be “exactly what the Chinese want,” according to remarks shared by national news agency Focus Taiwan. 

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Another military spokesperson said Taiwan would only respond with force to the balloons if they posed a major threat. 

The U.S. has informal relations with Taiwan and would not engage with regular Chinese incursions, though it has sent destroyer ships through international waters of the Taiwan strait in defiance to China, including one this week. 

Even if China continues intimidating Taiwan with the balloons, Taipei will be focused on building out its defenses, said York from the Pacific Forum. 

“Striking one of the balloons or actually confronting one of the Chinese planes or vessels that interferes in their space is probably not worth the risk,” he said. 

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“The only thing Taiwan really can do is to continue to shore up its defenses, such as continuing to lengthen its mandatory service, and also beginning to make preparations for defenses on the island.”

​ China is stepping up a campaign to coerce and intimidate Taiwan, sending batches of spy balloons over the self-governing island nation that flouted Beijing’s warning with the election of a pro-U.S. president earlier this month. The spy balloons flew into Taiwanese airspace almost daily before and after Taiwan’s Jan. 13 presidential elections, part of what… 

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Niremia Collective intends to provide capital and management resources to high-growth well-being startups as well as incubate new businesses.

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​ [[{“value”:”Niremia Collective intends to provide capital and management resources to high-growth well-being startups as well as incubate new businesses.
© 2024 TechCrunch. All rights reserved. For personal use only.”}]] 

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Education tech company Blackbaud agreed to settle with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission over the company’s security practices that resulted in a 2020 data breach. The FTC alleges that Blackbaud, a U.S.-based company that provides financial and administrative software to colleges, nonprofits, healthcare organizations, and far-right organizations, had “lax” security protocols that allowed attackers to […]

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​ [[{“value”:”Education tech company Blackbaud agreed to settle with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission over the company’s security practices that resulted in a 2020 data breach. The FTC alleges that Blackbaud, a U.S.-based company that provides financial and administrative software to colleges, nonprofits, healthcare organizations, and far-right organizations, had “lax” security protocols that allowed attackers to
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Apple says it’ll show its GenAI efforts ‘later this year’ on February 2, 2024 at 12:14 pm

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Apple has tossed another crumb to investors wondering when the world will get to see some ‘Made in Cupertino’ GenAI: Expect Apple to reveal what it’s been working on in this buzzy slice of artificial intelligence “later this year”, per CEO Tim Cook. During an earnings call yesterday, Apple’s chief exec emphasized its ongoing investment […]

© 2024 TechCrunch. All rights reserved. For personal use only.

​ [[{“value”:”Apple has tossed another crumb to investors wondering when the world will get to see some ‘Made in Cupertino’ GenAI: Expect Apple to reveal what it’s been working on in this buzzy slice of artificial intelligence “later this year”, per CEO Tim Cook. During an earnings call yesterday, Apple’s chief exec emphasized its ongoing investment
© 2024 TechCrunch. All rights reserved. For personal use only.”}]] 

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