US Rejects Beijing Accusation That It Flies Balloons Over China
The U.S. vehemently rejected a Beijing accusation Monday that it had flown more than 10 high-altitude balloons over China in the last year as the two superpowers continued to spar over the American shootdown of a Chinese balloon off the eastern U.S. coastline more than a week ago.
“Not true. Not doing it. Just absolutely not true,” White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told MSNBC. “We’re not flying balloons over China.”
Both countries deploy spy satellites, but a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin accused the U.S. of flying the balloons over China although he gave no details about how they had been dealt with or whether they had alleged links to the U.S. government.
China has acknowledged that one of its balloons flew for eight days over the U.S. before a U.S. fighter pilot shot it down February 4 just off the coast of the southern state of South Carolina. Beijing continues to claim it was a weather balloon that drifted off course, although the U.S. said that recovered parts of the aircraft revealed that it was a sophisticated spy balloon the size of two or three buses.
Since then, the U.S. has shot down three more objects from Friday to Sunday, over Alaska in the country’s far northwestern region, over Canada’s Yukon territory and over Lake Huron that borders the U.S. and Canada. The U.S. has not determined the origin of the latest three airborne objects.
Wang, at a daily briefing, contended, “It is also common for U.S. balloons to illegally enter the airspace of other countries. Since last year, U.S. high-altitude balloons have illegally flown over China’s airspace more than 10 times without the approval of Chinese authorities.”
He said the U.S. should “first reflect on itself and change course, rather than smear and instigate a confrontation.”
China has accused the U.S. of overreacting by shooting down the balloon that traversed the U.S. mainland before crossing over open waters.
National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said, “It is China that has a high-altitude surveillance balloon program for intelligence collection, connected to the People’s Liberation Army, that it has used to violate the sovereignty of the United States and over 40 countries across five continents.”
“This is the latest example of China scrambling to do damage control,” she said. “It has repeatedly and wrongly claimed the surveillance balloon it sent over the United States was a weather balloon and to this day has failed to offer any credible explanations for its intrusion into our airspace and the airspace of others.”
Following the balloon incident, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a visit to Beijing that potentially could have eased relations between the two countries and disputes over Taiwan, trade, human rights and threatening Chinese actions in the disputed South China Sea.
On Sunday, the Pentagon said President Joe Biden ordered the shootdown of an “unidentified object” over Lake Huron in the country’s northern territory along the Canadian border.
The object was believed to be the same one that had been detected Saturday over the western state of Montana, the Pentagon said. It was the fourth object shot down this month.
The object was described as octagonal in shape with strings hanging off but no identifiable payload, according to a U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity.
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Pentagon spokesperson Brig. General Patrick Ryder said in an official statement that the object posed no military threat, but as it was traveling at 6,100 meters (20,000 feet) altitude, it posed a potential threat to commercial airplanes.
U.S. Air Force General Glen VanHerck, who is responsible for safeguarding U.S. airspace, told reporters in a briefing that the military has not been able to identify what the three most recent objects are, how they stay aloft, or where they are coming from.
“We’re calling them objects, not balloons, for a reason,” said VanHerck, head of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and Northern Command.
Pentagon officials also said they don’t know when the last shootdown of an unknown or unauthorized object over U.S. territory occurred before this spate of incidents.
Meanwhile, U.S. national security officials said they believe two other high-altitude objects shot down over the northern reaches of the United States and Canada were balloons, but much smaller than the Chinese spy balloon shot down over the Atlantic Ocean in early February, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday.
Schumer told ABC’s “This Week” show that he had been briefed Saturday night by White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan about the initial findings about the objects, the one shot down over frozen waters near the state of Alaska on Friday and the second one Saturday over Canada’s Yukon region.
Schumer did not say where the balloons originated. But he said both were shot down by U.S. fighter jets, the second on authorization from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, after both were spotted on radar at about 12,000 meters (40,000 feet) above the Earth and were considered a threat to commercial aircraft that fly at a similar altitude.
Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report.