China spins intelligence balloon hovering over US as merely blown off course

ADDITION APTOPIX United States China
ADDS PENTAGON RESPONSE THAT IT WOULD NOT CONFIRM – A high altitude balloon floats over Billings, Mont., on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. The U.S. is tracking a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that has been spotted over U.S. airspace for a couple days, but the Pentagon decided not to shoot it down due to risks of harm for people on the ground, officials said Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. The Pentagon would not confirm that the balloon in the photo was the surveillance balloon. (Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via AP) Chris Jorgensen/AP

China spins intelligence balloon hovering over US as merely blown off course

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The Chinese government says it is looking into the suspected intelligence balloon that has been discovered hovering over the northwestern part of the continental United States.

The Department of Defense announced on Thursday evening that the balloon entered U.S. airspace “a couple days ago,” a senior defense official said, noting that it has a “very high confidence” that this intelligence gathering system belongs to China. Senior military leaders urged President Joe Biden not to shoot it down, saying that the possible threat from falling debris posed too much risk compared to the additive value the balloon brings to China’s intelligence-gathering operations.

Chinese government claims merit a high degree of skepticism.

SUSPECTED CHINESE SPY BALLOON DISCOVERED FLOATING OVER NORTHERN US

“The airship is from China. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Friday. “Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course. The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure. The Chinese side will continue communicating with the US side and properly handle this unexpected situation caused by force majeure.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning urged both sides to proceed “calmly and carefully” during a daily briefing on Friday. “China is a responsible country and has always strictly abided by international laws, and China has no intention to violate the territory and airspace of any sovereign countries,” she added.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken was scheduled to travel to Beijing, but the trip has now been postponed. A State Department official previously declined to comment to the Washington Examiner about his plans, while Mao also declined to take questions on a Blinken trip.

According to a senior defense official, U.S. authorities have spoken with their Chinese counterparts “with urgency” and “through multiple channels. They’ve been engaged both through their embassy here in Washington and through our embassy in Beijing. We have communicated to them the seriousness with which we take this issue.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin convened a meeting of senior military and defense leaders on Wednesday, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, North American Aerospace Defense Command/U.S. Northern Command Commander Gen. Van Herck, and other combatant commanders, to discuss the Chinese incursion. They urged Biden “not to take kinetic action” as the people below might face a safety risk, the official explained, adding that it’s their assessment that “this balloon has limited additive value from an intelligence collection perspective.”

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Former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper called this incident “a brazen act by the Chinese” and said he was “surprised” during a Friday morning interview on CNN. He seemingly denied that this type of thing had happened during his time leading the Pentagon, but a senior defense official told reporters that “it has happened a handful of other times over the last few years, to include before this administration.”

The U.S.-Chinese relationship has increasingly grown tense over the course of the Biden administration, with the Chinese military getting more aggressive with their actions in the Indo-Pacific, specifically as it relates to Taiwan, the island that mainland China claims as its territory.

“We’ve seen increased activity in aerial activity,” Austin stated at a Jan. 11 news conference alongside Japanese officials. “[W]e’ve seen increased surface vessel activity around Taiwan. And again, we believe that they endeavor to establish a new normal, but whether or not that means that an invasion is imminent, I seriously doubt that.”

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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