China Issues Nav Warning Near Taiwan for Falling Rocket Debris

Rocket debris
Chinese rocket debris recovered at sea in the Philippines, August 2022 (PCG)

Published Apr 14, 2023 12:51 AM by The Maritime Executive

One week after its unprecedented naval drills off the coast of Taiwan, the Chinese government has issued a warning to mariners to steer clear of an area to the island's east for a new and different reason - falling rocket debris. 

On Thursday, the maritime safety administration for Fujian Province announced a temporary "forbidden" area near to the Senkaku Islands, a chain of rocky outcroppings in the East China Sea. The islands are the scene of frequent confrontation between the Japanese and Chinese coast guards. 

The warning lasts for a six-hour period beginning at 0900 Sunday, and it appears to be a scaled-down version of an earlier Chinese demand for an airspace closure. On Tuesday, Beijing announced that it would impose a three-day closure notice covering flights through the same area from April 16-18. China's neighbors were quick to note that this coincided with a meeting of the G7 nations in Nagano, Japan, and would disrupt flights of high-level dignitaries (including the U.S. secretary of state, according to FT). The unprecedented closure has since been scaled back.

The revised announcement did not indicate the type of rocket or payload involved, and Japan continues to seek clarification from the Chinese government.

China's space program is known for technological sophistication in most respects, but it still drops heavy booster stages out of orbit without controls designed to de-orbit in a safe location. This is an operational design that western space programs used for decades but have abandoned, given the slight but nonzero chance of an accident from falling material. China has come in for considerable criticism for continuing to deorbit large debris at random, but defends the choice as an "international practice."