US shoots down alleged Chinese spy balloon which Beijing insists was a weather balloon that deviated far from its planned course due to force majeure
US fighter jets attached to the Northern Command have shot down the alleged Chinese spy balloon a week after it entered US airspace. On Saturday on his way for a weekend at Camp David. President Joe Biden promised to “take care of it.”
In a press release on Saturday the US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin confirmed that the spy ballon has been shot down.
“This afternoon, at the direction of President Biden, U.S. fighter aircraft assigned to U.S. Northern Command successfully brought down the high altitude surveillance balloon launched by and belonging to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) over the water off the coast of South Carolina in U.S. airspace.”
Early reports indicate that it was a flight of F-22 Raptors from Langley Air Force Base that brought the balloon down. The Pentagon chief alleged that the balloon collected vital intelligence.
“The balloon, which was being used by the PRC in an attempt to surveil strategic sites in the continental United States, was brought down above U.S. territorial waters.”
Austin confirmed that on Wednesday, President Joe Biden authorised the craft be shot down without risking American lives under the balloon’s path.
“After careful analysis, U.S. military commanders had determined downing the balloon while over land posed an undue risk to people across a wide area due to the size and altitude of the balloon and its surveillance payload. In accordance with the President’s direction, the Department of Defense developed options to take down the balloon safely over our territorial waters, while closely monitoring its path and intelligence collection activities.” The statement added.
The US Defence Secretary also added that the surveillance and strike was done in full co-operation with the Government of Canada and the North American Aerospace Defence Command which tracked and analysed the balloon as it transited North American airspace.
Earlier in the week, due to the hysteria the Pentagon advised against shooting down the craft while it was over land. Officials feared the falling debris could be dangerous to civilians on the ground.
Despite those apprehensions, multiple Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, criticized President Joe Biden for not shooting down the balloon. Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. encouraged citizens in Montana to take action into their own hands while the alleged surveillance balloon was over the state.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that Biden was first briefed on the balloon on Tuesday. However, she did not explain why the president had waited until it was spotted by members of the public a day later to acknowledge its presence.
Beijing has denied accusations of espionage, with the Chinese Foreign Ministry describing the balloon as a “civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes” which “deviated from its intended course.” Austin said that it was being used to surveil “strategic sites in the continental United States.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a planned trip to Beijing in response to the incident, with the State Department calling it “a clear violation of US sovereignty.” China countered that no such visit had been agreed on in the first place.