China has dismissed suggestions it flew a spy balloon high over the western United States, saying it was a civilian airship that veered off course scheduled due to the impact of bad weather.
The Pentagon said Thursday that a Chinese spy balloon entered US airspace this week and was flying over the state of Montana, home to one of the sensitive bases that house US nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles.
China’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday that the balloon was a “civilian airship used for research purposes, mainly meteorological” that veered off its intended path due to winds and “limited self-steering capability.” “.
In an unusual statement made as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepared to depart for a trip to China, Beijing said: “The Chinese side regrets the airship’s involuntary entry into US airspace due to force majeure.”
The ministry added that China would continue to communicate with the United States and “properly handle this unexpected situation.”
US officials said China had previously flown spy balloons over the country, but this one was spending more time overhead. The United States said it had taken steps to ensure the balloon could not obtain sensitive military information. Canada separately said it was monitoring a “potential second incident” without providing details.
Canada’s foreign ministry said it had summoned the Chinese ambassador to Ottawa to protest the balloon and would “continue to vigorously express our position to the Chinese authorities through multiple channels.”
The US State Department was debating how to respond to the situation on Friday, with Blinken due to leave later this weekend for a two-day visit that begins on Sunday.
Some Republicans have called on the top US diplomat to cancel the visit. But Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Blinken should use the trip to tell “President Xi and his government that their military adventurism will no longer be tolerated.”
McCaul told the Financial Times that the United States should remove the balloon from its airspace. He said US officials acknowledged they had been monitoring the balloon since it flew over the Aleutian Islands where “it could easily have been shot down over water”.
“Allowing him to remain on American soil not only threatens the privacy of every American, but sends a powerfully dangerous message to the Chinese Communist Party and our other adversaries that this type of aggressive incursion is somehow acceptable,” a- he declared.
Mike Gallagher, the Republican leader of the House’s new China committee, and Raja Krishnamoorthi, the top Democrat on the panel, criticized China over the incident, saying the Chinese Communist Party “shouldn’t have access on demand to US airspace”.
“Not only is this a violation of U.S. sovereignty . . . but it also makes it clear that the CCP’s recent diplomatic overtures do not represent a substantial shift in policy,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement.
The discovery of the ball abruptly complicated an attempt by Washington and Beijing to stabilize their turbulent relationship. When Biden met Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali in November, leaders agreed the two military powers should try to set a floor on the relationship, which has sunk to an all-time low. since the countries established diplomatic relations. in 1979.
Blinken would be the first cabinet secretary in the Biden administration to visit China. The FT reported on Thursday that he would be the first secretary of state to meet Xi in more than five years.
President Joe Biden had asked the Pentagon to provide military options regarding the balloon, but the administration ultimately decided not to shoot it down due to the risk to those on the ground, as well as its assessment that the balloon is n didn’t provide China with intelligence it couldn’t glean from other means, including low-Earth-orbit satellites.