UNITED STATES/CHINA: Beijing said on Friday that it regrets the blimp’s straying but that it was pushed by the wind and that it was only doing weather research in response to the US’s claim that China had flown a surveillance balloon into American airspace.
“The Chinese side laments the airship’s unintentional intrusion into American airspace caused by force majeure,” the statement used a legal word to describe circumstances that are out of one’s control.
A senior American defence official told reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday that the United States has “extremely high confidence” that the item seen in recent days above American airspace was actually a Chinese high-altitude balloon that was flying over key locations to gather intelligence.
One of the states where the balloon was noticed was Montana, which is home to Malmstrom Air Force Base, one of the country’s three nuclear missile silo fields. To discuss sensitive information, the official spoke on the condition of anonymity.
In terms of providing intelligence that couldn’t be gained by other technologies, including spy satellites, the balloon has “limited” usefulness, according to the defence official.
The Pentagon decided against firing down the balloon out of concern for the safety of people on the ground as there might have been vital installations in its path. The revelation broke as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepared to travel to Beijing for the first time this weekend.
It was not immediately obvious if the balloon’s discovery would alter his travel plans, as the visit has not yet been officially confirmed. Mao Ning, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, stated that she was unaware of the trip.
As the highest-ranking official in President Joe Biden’s administration, Blinken will travel to China in an effort to improve deteriorating bilateral ties caused by trade disputes and worries about Beijing’s more aggressive behaviour toward Taiwan and in the South China Sea.
The South China Sea, Taiwan, the Xinjiang area in western China, the crackdown on democracy campaigners in Hong Kong, and many other problems are causing particularly high tensions with China.
Not least among these irritants are China’s persistent trade and technological disputes, its failure to restrain North Korea’s burgeoning ballistic missile programme, and its covert support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In reaction to neighbouring operations by 34 Chinese military aircraft and nine warships, which are part of Beijing’s effort to unnerve and intimidate the self-governing island democracy, Taiwan scrambled fighters, put its navy on alert, and activated missile systems on Tuesday.
Beijing has also intensified its plans for a possible blockade or military strike against Taiwan, which has caused growing alarm among military chiefs, diplomats, and elected officials in the U.S., Taiwan’s main supporter.
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