Beijing has condemned the US decision to shoot down a Chinese balloon flying over North America this week, accusing the Biden administration of “seriously violating international conventions”.
The Chinese foreign ministry said it “repeatedly” told the US that the balloon was for “civilian use” and had accidentally entered US airspace due to bad weather – a claim the US has rejected.
China’s Defense Ministry said on Sunday that the US carried out an “excessive attack” on a “civilian” balloon. It added, “We strongly oppose the US move and reserve the right to use whatever means necessary to deal with similar situations.”
The salvo came hours after a US F-22 fighter jet shot down what the US said was a spy balloon. The US is now recovering the wreckage to gather more information about the surveillance equipment placed on the plane.
The fighter fired the air-to-air missile at 2.39 pm local time on Saturday when it was six nautical miles off the coast in US airspace and above its territorial waters.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said President Joe Biden had authorized Wednesday that the balloon be shot down “as soon as the mission can be accomplished without undue risk to American life”.
The Pentagon said the US military has begun efforts to clear the debris, which is spread over seven miles of sea. A senior defense official said the US had determined the balloon had a “broad array” of intelligence capabilities, but that more would be known after the wreckage was analysed.
The Pentagon revealed the presence of the balloon on Wednesday as it flew over a sensitive military installation in Montana where the US bases some of its nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles.
A senior defense official said the craft entered US airspace near the Aleutian Islands in Alaska on January 28. It flew into Canadian airspace two days later and re-entered US airspace over Idaho on 31 January.
Debris from the destroyed balloon fell into the relatively shallow sea, which was 47 feet deep, which an official said would make it easier to retrieve the debris.
A person familiar with the administration’s thinking said China has not yet demanded that the US return the debris from the balloon.
In 2001, US-China relations came to a halt when an American spy plane was forced to land at a Chinese military base after being rammed by a Chinese fighter jet. It took months for China to return the damaged plane.
The person said that when the Biden administration summoned Chinese officials to the State Department on Wednesday in protest of the balloons, diplomats were unable to provide an explanation.
The man said, “They were captured and they still don’t have a story to tell.” “We made it clear that we knew exactly what was going on and needed swift action. . . it took longer than necessary for them to get back to us.”
The person said the administration was in contact with Beijing several times on Saturday and had requested further talks.
Austin said the “legal action” shows that Biden “will always prioritize the safety and security of the American people, while effectively responding to unacceptable violations of our sovereignty by the PRC”.
Biden came under pressure from Republicans to turn down the craft, which was estimated to be the size of several buses.
Some lawmakers questioned why the president allowed the balloon to fly across the United States. Michael McCaul, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the administration “should have addressed this before it became a threat to national security”.
The Pentagon sent the balloon to the U.S. defended the decision to allow the crossing. The defense official said the main reason was to avoid civilian casualties, but added that the Pentagon was able to gather intelligence about the balloon’s capabilities during its flight.
“What didn’t make sense . . . is that it actually took us several days to analyze this balloon and . . . learn a lot about what this balloon was doing, how it was doing it, said the defense official.
The defense official said the downed aircraft was part of a fleet of Chinese spy balloons operating across five continents. The Pentagon previously said a second Chinese spy balloon had been detected in Latin America, but did not elaborate.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a trip to China on Friday because of the search for the balloon. He was expected to meet President Xi Jinping. He would have been the first cabinet secretary of the Biden administration to visit China.
Additional reporting by Eleanor Olcott in Hong Kong
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