China says spy balloon flying over US is a ‘civilian airship’
Chinese spy balloon spotted over Montana, Pentagon officials confirm
The spy balloon is currently floating at an altitude where planes don’t fly but would be shot down if it posed a threat to civilian aviation.
Cody Godwin, Storyful
WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed an imminent trip to China because a Chinese surveillance balloon drifting over the northern U.S. is a “clear violation” of sovereignty and international law, senior Sate Department officials said Friday.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Blinken will reschedule the trip when conditions are right.
Although the trip had not been officially announced, Blinken had been set to leave Friday night, a day after the Pentagon announced it had spotted what it identified as a spy balloon flying over the U.S.
China disputed that characterization, calling it a “civilian airship” that blew off course.
The air ship is used for meteorological and other research, the Chinese government said in a statement in which it expressed regret for its “unintended entry” into U.S. airspace.
In response, a senior State Department official said the U.S. remains “confident in our assessment and our concerns about this clear violation of our sovereignty and airspace.”
Shooting down the balloon poses too high a risk to people and property from debris, two U.S. officials said Friday. Other options are being explored, according to the officials who were not authorized to speak publicly.
The incident comes at a time of rising tension between the superpowers.
- Where it was: The balloon was over Montana where the Pentagon has nuclear missile silos.
- What it is: The balloon is designed for surveillance, according to the Pentagon. But it likely is unable to collect more information than is available to spy satellites.
- Steps taken: While the Pentagon decided against shooting it down, the government took steps to prevent it from collecting sensitive information.
- Fighter jets sent: F-22 fighter jets, the most advanced warplane in the Pentagon’s arsenal, were sent to observe the balloon.
- Not first time: It’s not the first time Chinese spy balloons have flown over the United States. the official said.
- Not a risk to aircraft: The balloon is flying so high that it does not present a danger to civilian aircraft, Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, said in a statement.
Why it matters
Tensions have been rising with China, which the U.S. considers its biggest strategic and economic competitor. The nations have clashed over Taiwan, technology, human rights and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Biden administration has been trying to stabilize the relationship, building what it’s called “guardrails” as it normalizes interaction.
After a three-hour meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in November, President Joe Biden said both countries share a responsibility to “manage our differences, prevent competition from becoming anything ever to near conflict, and to find ways to work together on urgent global issues that require our mutual cooperation.”
Xi responded: “The world has come to a crossroads. Where to go from here – this is a question that is not only on our mind but also on the mind of all countries. The world expects that China and the United States will properly handle the relationship.”
Maintaining a dialogue
Blinken was set to travel to China as an outgrowth of Biden’s meeting with Xi.
Both leaders had agreed to get their teams together to try to restore some of the lines of communication. Beijing had suspended or canceled eight official military dialogues and cooperation channels with the U.S. after former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., visited Taiwan in August.
Last month, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen met with her Chinese counterpart in Switzerland to work on repairing relations.
But senior State Department officials said it wouldn’t have been constructive for Blinken to go to China right now. The spy balloon incident would have detracted from the planned “broad, substantive agenda,” according to officials.
Blinken hopes to reschedule “at the earliest opportunity, when conditions allow” officials said.
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