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HomeWorldPentagon says it is tracking a Chinese spy balloon over the US

Pentagon says it is tracking a Chinese spy balloon over the US

The Pentagon said Thursday it was tracking a Chinese spy balloon flying high over the United States, just days before a rare visit by the top US diplomat to Beijing.

After President Joe Biden requested military options, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and senior military officials considered shooting down the balloon, a senior defense official told reporters Thursday.

But they decided it would endanger too many people on the ground and because they felt the balloon posed no threat to civil aviation, the official said.

“The intent of this balloon is clearly surveillance,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official added that the balloon flew over the Northwestern United States, where sensitive air force bases and nuclear missiles are located in underground silos, but the Pentagon doesn’t believe it posed a particularly dangerous intelligence threat.

“We believe this balloon has limited value from an intelligence gathering perspective,” the official said.

The official added that there was “no doubt” the balloon was Chinese, without explaining why.

Asked about the US comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning warned against “hyping up” the issue and insisted China would not violate international law.

But she didn’t give a straight answer as to whether the balloon was Chinese.

“Review is underway,” Mao said.

The plane’s discovery comes just days ahead of a planned visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to China, where dealing with heightened tensions between the two powers will be high on the agenda.

Blinken’s visit to Beijing, which follows a meeting between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping last November on the sidelines of the G20 summit, will be the top US diplomat’s first trip to the Asian country since 2018.

In addition to ongoing disputes over trade and intellectual property, relations between the two countries have become frayed, particularly over democratically-ruled Taiwan, which China has pledged to reunite with the mainland.

The United States has sold arms to Taiwan to defend itself, and Biden said Washington would help protect the island should China attack.

The State Department on Thursday declined immediate comment on whether the incident would derail Blinken’s trip.

– No military threat –

The defense official said the balloon entered US airspace “a few days ago,” but American intelligence tracked it long before that.

Austin, who was in the Philippines, held meetings with senior Pentagon officials Wednesday after Biden asked about options for handling the balloon.

Warplanes were flown to examine it while it was over Montana while discussions were taking place.

But the Pentagon’s decision was “not to take kinetic action because the safety of people on the ground is threatened by the potential debris field,” the official said.

Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder confirmed the balloon is still being tracked over US airspace.

“The balloon is currently flying at an altitude well above commercial air travel. It poses no military or physical threat to those on the ground,” Ryder said in a statement.

Canada’s Ministry of Defense said late Thursday it was working with the United States to track a balloon while signaling there might be other surveillance activity.

“Canadians are safe and Canada is taking steps to ensure the safety of its airspace, including monitoring for a possible second incident,” the department said, without giving further details or mentioning China.

Beijing has sent surveillance balloons over the United States in the past.

However, it has been in US airspace for much longer, the senior US defense official said.

“We are nevertheless taking steps to protect ourselves from the collection of sensitive information by foreign intelligence agencies,” the official added.

Austin was in the Philippines this week to strengthen U.S. defense cooperation, including broader access for Pentagon forces to Philippine military bases, a move underscoring the U.S. view of China as a threat to East Asia.

The defense official said “the seriousness of the problem” with the balloon had been raised with Beijing officials.

“We have made it clear that we will do whatever is necessary to protect our people in our own country.”

Tensions around Taiwan reached turmoil last year when Nancy Pelosi, then Speaker of the US House of Representatives, visited the island.

Since Republicans gained control of the chamber in January, questions have been raised as to whether their successor will make a similar journey.

“China’s brazen disregard for US sovereignty is a destabilizing action that needs to be addressed and President Biden cannot remain silent,” current spokesman Kevin McCarthy tweeted Thursday night.


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