US President Joe Biden on Saturday had ordered the downing of a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina, the Pentagon said, over what it called Beijing’s “unacceptable violation” of American sovereignty.
Pentagon officials reported that the craft had spent several days flying over North America before it was ordered to take down by a missile shot from a US F-22 fighter plane falling into relatively shallow water just 47 feet (14 meters) deep.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin called the operation a “deliberate and lawful action” that came in response to China’s “unacceptable violation of our sovereignty.”
A senior defense official told reporters that Saturday afternoon was the US military’s first chance to take on the balloon “in a way that would not pose a threat to the safety of Americans while still allowing authorities to collect the fallen debris from US territorial waters. .
Early Saturday, President Biden, promised “to take care” of the balloon, congratulated the fighter pilots involved. “They successfully took it down. And I want to compliment our aviators who did it,” Biden told reporters in Maryland.
The said controversy erupted last Thursday, when American officials reported that they were tracking a large Chinese “surveillance balloon” in US skies. The incident led to the cancellation of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s Beijing trip which was designed to contain rising US-China tensions.
Beijing, after initial hesitation, admitted ownership of the “airship,” and the object in question was a weather balloon that had been blown off course.
According to China’s foreign ministry in a statement released on Friday “The airship is from China. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological purposes. The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure,” it said.
Pentagon officials told reporters Saturday that the balloon was reportedly first spotted entering US airspace over Alaska last January 28 before drifting over Canada and then back into the United States days later.
The senior defense official said, this was not the first time in recent history such an aircraft had drifted into US territory, though the official said that the latest incident was the longest time one had spent in the county. Three balloons were spotted during Donald Trump’s presidency and another one earlier in the Biden administration.
Pres. Biden told reporters he had on Wednesday ordered the craft shot down “as soon as possible. They decided without doing damage to anyone on the ground that the best time to do that was as it got over water,” Biden said.
Without providing details, a senior defense official said that the military determined the airship was not a major threat to the United States during its flight, and “the surveillance balloon’s over flight of US territory was of intelligence value to us,” he added,
The balloon had reportedly flown over parts of the northwestern United States, including the state of Montana, that are home to sensitive airbases and strategic nuclear missiles in underground silos.
The senior defense official said. “We are confident it was seeking to monitor sensitive military sites,”
Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also praised the operation. In a tweet, Trudeau wrote “Canada strongly supports this action, we’ll keep working together… on our security and defence.”
Republican lawmakers however, quickly used the balloon incident and compared Biden policies on China as weak.
Chuck Schumer, a top Democratic Senator tweeted on Saturday that the US experts now “can collect the equipment and analyze the technology used by the CCP,” referring to the Chinese Communist Party.
By late Saturday afternoon, the US Federal Aviation Administration had opened the airspace off the coast of the Carolinas, after three southeastern airports were temporarily shut down over a “national security effort.”
Last Friday, the Pentagon without providing details said that another suspected Chinese spy balloon was seen over Latin America,
“Over the past several years, Chinese balloons have previously been spotted over countries across five continents, including East Asia, South Asia and Europe,” the senior defense official said Saturday.
Canada’s Trudeau orders new investigation over alleged China election interference
US wants UN vote to support additional aid access to Syria thru Turkey
7.8 magnitude earthquake hits Turkey, Syria, death toll now at 3,400