Chinese spy balloon flies over US airspace, Pentagon says US News
The US military is tracking a suspected Chinese spy balloon that has been flying over Northwest America in recent days.
A senior defense official said: US has “very high confidence” that it is a Chinese high-altitude balloon and is flying over sensitive locations to gather information.
“The intent of this balloon is clearly surveillance,” the official said.
Beijing did not immediately deny that it was theirs.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said, “We are just learning from the review of this matter.
“We hope that both sides can approach the matter calmly and prudently.
“I want to stress that until the facts are settled, speculation and hype will not help to properly resolve the issue.”
The balloon was sighted over Billings, Montana, on Wednesday — near one of the US’s three nuclear missile silo sites at Malmstrom Air Force Base.
It also flew over the Aleutian Islands off the coast of AlaskaAnd through Canada.
The balloon is still in US airspace, but officials declined to say where it is now.
They admitted it operated above civilian air traffic and below “space,” but declined to say how high it flew.
READ ALSO: Mike Pompeo: China “Wants World Domination And Is A Bigger Threat Than Vladimir Putin”
Military and defense leaders have considered shooting the balloon out of the sky, but decided against it due to the safety risk from falling debris.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin called a meeting of senior military and defense leaders to review the balloon’s threat profile and possible responses, which were presented to the US President Joe Biden On Wednesday.
The US got involved Chinese Officials “with urgency” and shared the seriousness of the situation.
Spy balloon threatens efforts to ease US-China ties
Distrust between the Chinese and Americans is at its highest level in decades.
An incident like this would serve to feed that suspicion whenever it happens, but it comes just days before Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s highly momentous visit to Beijing and could seriously undermine the tentative efforts by both sides to try to do so further deterioration of relations.
Mr Blinken is expected to land in Beijing on Sunday and had planned to meet his counterpart Qin Gang as well as Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat.
A lot of meticulous diplomatic effort must have been expended to make such a visit possible, the fact that it happened at all is a kind of progress.
There have even been suggestions in recent days that Mr Blinken could meet President Xi Jinping in person.
If so, he would be the first US Secretary of State to be granted such access in five years, and it would be an important sign that both sides are serious about trying to mend their deeply damaged relationship.
Chinese leader and US President Joe Biden, when they met at the G20 summit late last year, both recognized that they must do more to ensure their distrust and competition do not erupt into conflict and confrontation.
This visit was a clear part of that effort.
But mutually acknowledging that spiraling tensions are not good is not the same as actively rebuilding trust.
This incident will likely be viewed by the Americans as directed against both.
And perhaps people here in Beijing are aware of how much this incident jeopardizes these young efforts.
In fact, at a regular press conference in Beijing on Friday, there was a clear desire from the Chinese side to curb speculation.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said China is “verifying” the situation, adding, “I would like to stress that until the facts are clarified, speculation and hype will not help to adequately resolve the issue.”
Given the low point in current relations between the two, no breakthrough was expected from Mr Blinken’s visit.
It was designed more as a chance for both sides to reaffirm their positions and red lines and keep the channels of dialogue open.
It will likely never be known if this spy balloon was deliberately planned ahead of the visit or if it’s just unfortunate timing, but if it forces Mr Blinken to cancel, it could have implications for the longer-term project to curb deteriorating relationships in the indeed be very serious.
Pentagon press secretary Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said: “The United States government has spotted and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon currently hovering over the continental United States.
“The US government, which includes NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command), continues to track and monitor it closely.
“The balloon is currently flying at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and poses no military or physical threat to people on the ground.
“Cases of this type of balloon activity have been observed in recent years.
“As soon as the balloon was spotted, the US government acted immediately to protect itself from the collection of sensitive information.”
“Potential Second Incident”
Canada’s National Defense said Canadians were safe and officials were taking steps to ensure the security of their airspace, including monitoring a “possible second incident”.
“NORAD, the Canadian Armed Forces, the Department of Defense and other partners have assessed the situation and are working in close coordination,” the statement said.
“Canada’s intelligence agencies are working with American partners and continue to take all necessary measures to protect Canada’s sensitive information from foreign intelligence threats.
“We remain in constant contact with our American allies as the situation evolves.”
Commons Defense Committee Chair Tobias Ellwood wrote on Twitter: “No puzzling, more robust action was taken after Montana’s airports closed.
“Had the US ordered a similar agent over China’s skies, Beijing’s response would indeed have been very different.
“China is once again testing the limits of acceptance and we blink.”
China and the US have been experiencing tensions of late, squabbling over Taiwan’s and China’s human rights records and military activities in the South China Sea.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to travel to China in the coming days.
It’s not clear if this will affect his travel plans, which the State Department hasn’t officially announced.