Originally published on RFI
The Chinese Ministry of Defense denounced this Sunday (5) the decision of the United States to shoot down, on Saturday, a Chinese “observation balloon” that had been flying over American airspace for several days. Beijing said it “reserves the right” to respond to what it considered an “evident overreaction”.
For Washington, the mechanism was a spy balloon: the Pentagon classified the incident as an “unacceptable violation” of American sovereignty. China, for its part, guarantees that the instrument was for civilian use at a meteorological observation station, which would have mistakenly entered American airspace due to air currents.
An American F-22 fighter shot down the alleged spy balloon on Saturday off the coast of South Carolina. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the operation’s “deliberate and lawful action” “shows that President Joe Biden and his national security team will always put the safety of the American people first.” The secretary added that the balloon “was used by China in an attempt to surveil strategic locations” of the United States.
In Maryland, Joe Biden congratulated the pilots on the mission, which took place above US territorial waters. The raid came after three airports in the US Southeast were temporarily closed amid what the Federal Aviation Administration called a “national security effort.” Air traffic resumed after the balloon crash.
— World Times (@WorldTimesWT) February 5, 2023
In images shown by American TV channels, the balloon appeared to fall vertically after an impact. When it was shot down, it was 18 kilometers high and 11 kilometers from the coast.
Afterwards, the government of China declared its “strong dissatisfaction” with the operation. “China expresses its strong dissatisfaction and protests against the use of force by the United States,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement. Washington “seriously violated international practices,” according to the same source.
Biden had given the order on Wednesday to bring down the balloon “as soon as possible”, but the Pentagon wanted to wait for “the safest place to do it” and avoid damage to the ground when the balloon fell. The measure was also welcomed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “Together (…) we will continue to protect and defend ourselves,” he said in a tweet on Saturday.
Operations to recover the remains of the instrument, which may involve divers, were ongoing. The wreck is in shallow water, “that will make it a lot easier”, said a senior military official.
This case cooled relations between Washington and Beijing, leading to the postponement of a visit that the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, would make to China. It would be the first trip by a US top diplomat to Beijing since October 2018.
According to Pentagon officials, the balloon first entered US airspace on Jan. 28 over Alaska before entering Canada on Jan. United States, on January 31.
But the Americans only learned of the balloon’s existence on Thursday, as it flew over Montana, which is home to nuclear missile silos. He then gradually moved to the east of the country.
“I salute President Biden’s leadership for shooting the Chinese balloon over the water to keep all Americans safe,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted on Saturday. “Now we can collect the equipment and analyze the technology used” by China, he added.
On Friday, the Pentagon said a second Chinese balloon had been sighted over Latin America. “Chinese surveillance balloons briefly passed over the United States at least three times during the previous administration, and once at the beginning of this administration, as far as we know, but never for this long,” an official said Saturday.
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