China said a weather balloon blew off course over the continental U.S. Friday after the Pentagon revealed it had tracked a suspected Chinese spy balloon traversing over sensitive U.S. military sites.
The Pentagon revealed Thursday it had been monitoring a surveillance balloon believed to be a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) attempt to gather information over sensitive U.S. military sites that President Joe Biden had chosen not to blow out of the sky. While China evaded responsibility for the craft initially, it later claimed ownership of a “civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes” that accidentally “deviated far from its planned course,” a foreign ministry spokesperson said in a statement Friday.
“The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure,” the spokesperson said. (RELATED: ‘The PRC Is Our Only Competitor’: Blinken Claims Biden Has Made Major Progress On Reining In China)
After the Pentagon’s announcement, Beijing “noted” the relevant reports and is “gathering and verifying the facts,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a regular press conference Friday.
“China is a responsible country and we always act in accordance with international law,” Ning added. “We hope both sides can handle the matter together in a cool-headed and prudent manner.”
The spy balloon appeared to be surveilling highly sensitive nuclear weapons sites.
The balloon doesn’t create significant value to what China can collect through low-orbit satellites.
The balloon can cause damage from debris if shot down pic.twitter.com/xaI94Dcg2r
— Indo-Pacific News – Geo-Politics & Military News (@IndoPac_Info) February 3, 2023
Pentagon officials said the balloon did not provide any additional surveillance advantage beyond what China also has access to through low-orbit satellites and does not present a significant threat to Americans on the ground in a briefing Thursday.
President Joe Biden asked whether he should pursue a military response, but Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin counseled against doing so over concern that falling debris could cause injuries, the officials said.
“We know exactly where this balloon is, exactly what it is passing over. And we are taking steps to be extra vigilant so that we can mitigate any foreign intelligence risk,” a senior U.S. defense official said.
Speaker of the House GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California called for a Gang of Eight meeting late Thursday night.
“This incident demonstrates that the CCP threat is not confined to distant shores — it is here at home and we must act to counter this threat,” Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin and Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois said in a joint statement. Gallagher chairs the new House Select Committee on Strategic Competition Between the U.S. and the CCP, and Krishnamoorthi is ranking member.
Blinken is set to visit Beijing and converse with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the coming days, the first time a Secretary of State has visited China since 2018, according to Voice of America.
“As to whether Secretary Blinken will visit China, I have nothing to offer at the moment,” the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said.
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