China will ban vessels from an area near Taiwan on Sunday because of the possibility of falling rocket debris, its maritime safety agency said on Thursday, which Taiwan’s Central News Agency said would be from a weather satellite launch.
The disruption comes during tension in the region over Chinese military exercises around Taiwan, a show of force in response to a meeting last week in Los Angeles between Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and US House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
China regards Taiwan as its own territory and objects to any interactions between the Taiwanese leadership and foreign officials. Taiwan rejects China’s sovereignty claims.
Taiwan’s government on Wednesday confirmed a Reuters report that China was planning to impose a no-fly zone from April 16-18 - when Japan hosts a meeting of G7 foreign ministers - but later said China had shortened the stipulation to just 27 minutes on Sunday morning after Taipei protested.
The no-fly zone will affect about 33 flights, Taiwan’s official Central News Agency reported, citing the island’s transport minister, Wang Kwo-tsai.
In a brief statement, China’s Maritime Safety Administration released coordinates for the zone, saying shipping was banned from entering from 9 a.m. (0100 GMT) until 3 p.m. on Sunday as there “may be falling rocket debris”.
The coordinates correspond to a rectangular area to Taiwan’s northeast, with the closest point 118 km (73 miles) from Taiwan, illustrated on a map that Taiwan’s transport ministry released late on Wednesday.
The zone is to the northwest of Japan’s Ishigaki island and close to a group of disputed islets in the East China Sea that Japan calls the Senkaku and China the Diaoyu.
The Central News Agency, citing a security source, said China was planning to launch a weather satellite from its northwestern province of Gansu on Sunday and this was the cause for the zone being enacted, rather than any military drills.
China has not officially announced such a launch.
The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, China’s main contractor for its space program, said on April 3 it was aiming for a mid-April launch of the weather satellite Fengyun-3G.
A senior Taiwan official, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media, told Reuters that China had not changed its previous notice of 27 minutes of flight restrictions on Sunday, and that the new notice only covered ships, not aircraft.
Taiwan’s transport ministry said the maritime notice was separate from the previous one and issued a warning to shipping to stay out of the area on the time and date China had announced.
Japan had sought an explanation from China on Wednesday as to what was going on, its Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said.
“The government is continuing to collect and analyze detailed information, including the communication with the Chinese side, and will take appropriate measures based on the results,” Matsuno told a briefing.
China’s foreign ministry declined to comment.