China has called for a “cool head” to be dealt with over a giant Chinese balloon heading toward the eastern United States.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a visit to Beijing, saying the presence of the “surveillance” balloon was “an irresponsible act”.
And the US said it has spotted a second Chinese balloon floating over Latin America.
China lamented the balloon over the US, saying it was a weather blimp that had gone astray.
The object, last seen over Missouri, is expected to reach the east coast of the United States, near the Carolinas, this weekend, according to US expectations.
US authorities decided not to shoot down the high-altitude airship due to the danger of falling debris.
The incident comes amid fraying tensions between the US and China.
In a statement on Saturday (4/2), China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Beijing “has never violated the territory and airspace of any sovereign country”.
The statement said Wang Yi, China’s senior foreign policy official, discussed the incident with Blinken over the phone, stressing that it is important to maintain communication channels at all levels, “especially to deal with some unexpected situations in a calm and reliable manner. “.
It added that Beijing “would not accept any unfounded conjecture or exaggeration” and accused “some politicians and media in the United States” of using the incident “as a pretext to attack and smear China”.
According to US officials, the blimp floated over Alaska and Canada before appearing in the US state of Montana, which is home to several sensitive nuclear missile sites.
The incident angered senior US officials – Blinken said he had told Beijing that the balloon’s presence was “a clear violation of US sovereignty and international law” and “an irresponsible act”. He called it “unacceptable” and “even more irresponsible to come on the eve of a long-planned visit”.
Blinken was scheduled to travel to Beijing from February 5 to 6 for meetings on issues such as security, Taiwan and covid-19.
It would have been the first high-level US-China meeting in years. But on Thursday (2/2) US defense officials announced they were tracking a giant surveillance balloon over the country.
Although the balloon was, according to the Pentagon, “traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic” and “posed no military or physical threat to people on the ground”, its presence provoked outrage.
On Friday (3/2), China finally acknowledged that the balloon was its property, saying it was a civilian airship used for meteorological research, which deviated from its course because of bad weather.
On Friday night, the Pentagon said a second Chinese spy balloon had been sighted – this time over Latin America.
“We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America. We are now assessing that it is another Chinese surveillance balloon,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Brig Gen Patrick Ryder. He did not provide further details about his location.
So far, China has made no public comment on the reported second balloon.
‘Signal’ from Beijing: What analysts say
The capabilities of the balloon in this particular case are unclear, but experts say it could be more of a “signal” from the Beijing government than a security threat.
“Beijing is probably trying to send a signal to Washington: ‘While we want to improve our ties, we are also always ready for sustained competition, by any means necessary’, without severely inflaming tensions,” analyst He Yuan Ming told the BBC. “And what better tool for that than a seemingly innocuous balloon,” he added.
Balloons are one of the oldest forms of surveillance technology. The Japanese military used them to bomb the US during World War II. They were also used extensively by the US and Soviet Union during the Cold War.
More recently, the US has been considering adding high-altitude balloons to the Pentagon’s surveillance network. Modern balloons normally float between 24 and 37 kilometers above the Earth’s surface.
The US Department of Defense said on Thursday that the Chinese balloon was “significantly above where civilian air traffic passes”.
China expert Benjamin Ho said Beijing has more sophisticated surveillance technology available than balloons.
“They have other means to spy on American infrastructure, or whatever information they want to get. The balloon was to send a signal to Americans and also to see how Americans would react,” said Ho, China program coordinator at the School of American Studies. Chinese at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
It could even be that China wanted the US to detect the balloon.
“It’s possible that being discovered was the whole point. China could be using the balloon to demonstrate that it has a sophisticated technological capability to penetrate US airspace without risking serious escalation. In that sense, a balloon is a pretty ideal choice.” , said Arthur Holland Michel of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.
The advantages of balloons
However, some experts point out that balloons can be equipped with modern technology, such as spy cameras and radar sensors, and their use for surveillance has some advantages, the main one being the fact that they are cheaper and easier to use than conventional ones. drones or satellites.
The balloon’s slower speed also allows it to linger longer and monitor the target area for longer periods of time. The motion of a satellite, on the other hand, is constrained by the velocity of its orbit.