A Chinese balloon was spotted crossing the median line of the Taiwan Strait on Thursday, according to the island's Defense Ministry, as the self-ruled democracy heads toward its Jan. 13 presidential election.
Taiwan Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said Friday that it may have been a weather monitoring balloon. Beijing, which claims the island, has been increasing its military pressure on Taipei ahead of the election, with its aircraft and ships having in recent years ignored the boundary that had been respected by both sides for decades.
The ministry, in a statement, said the balloon was detected around noon Thursday, 187 kilometers southwest of the northern Taiwanese port city of Keelung at an altitude of approximately 6,400 meters before it headed east and later disappeared.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a news conference on Friday that he was "not aware of the case, and this is not a diplomatic matter," underlining Beijing's stance that Taiwan is part of China.
Taiwan's presidential election will see the ruling Democratic Progressive Party nominee Vice President Lai Ching-te compete against Hou Yu-ih of the main opposition Nationalist Party and Ko Wen-je of the second-largest opposition Taiwan People's Party.
Both the main opposition party, known as the Kuomintang, and the TPP favor engaging in dialogue with China, which has denounced the DPP's Lai as a "separatist" and a "troublemaker."
Mainland China and Taiwan have been governed separately since they split in 1949 as a result of a civil war. Beijing seeks to bring the island under its control, by force if necessary.