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China says balloons that have angered Taiwan are 'nothing new'

Spokesperson says balloons 'mostly used for people's livelihood purposes'

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Chen Binhua delivers a press breifing on Jan. 17. (Weibo, Taiwan Affairs Office image)

Chen Binhua delivers a press breifing on Jan. 17. (Weibo, Taiwan Affairs Office image)

BEIJING, Jan 31 (Reuters) - China's government on Wednesday dismissed repeated complaints by Taiwan about Chinese balloons flying over or near the island, saying they are for meteorological purposes and should not be hyped up for political reasons.

Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory, has complained since last month about the balloons, which have flown over the sensitive Taiwan Strait. Some of the balloons crossed over the island itself before vanishing.

China's defence ministry has so far declined to comment on the balloons.

But speaking at a regular news briefing in Beijing, Chen Binhua, a spokesperson for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, gave the longest official response yet to Taiwan's balloon complaints given "Taiwan compatriots have doubts".

Most balloons are launched by private companies and hundreds of thousands like them fly around the world every day, he said, adding that they were "not the kind of balloons that are hung for weddings and at shopping malls".

"The floating balloons are mostly used for people's livelihood purposes such as meteorological monitoring. They have a long history and are nothing new," Chen said.

"The Democratic Progressive Party authorities are advised not to politically hype up such issues and incite cross-strait antagonism and confrontation," he added, referring to Taiwan's ruling party.

The potential for China to use balloons for spying became a global issue last February when the United States shot down what it said was a Chinese surveillance balloon. China said the balloon was a civilian craft that accidentally drifted astray.

Earlier this month, Taiwan's government accused China of threatening aviation safety and waging psychological warfare on its people with the balloons, which were launched days before Taiwan's Jan. 13 elections.

Taiwan's government rejects Beijing's sovereignty claims, saying only the island's people can decide their future.