The US is keeping an eye on a supposed Chinese spy balloon that has been seen hovering over crucial locations in recent times.
Defense authorities stated that they were positive the balloon in question was part of China’s “high-altitude surveillance operations.” The most recent sighting was recorded above the western state of Montana.
The military elected not to shoot it down to avoid falling debris.
China has warned against unfounded claims and “exaggeration” until the facts are confirmed.
What all places did the Chinese Spy Ballon travelled?
The object traveled through Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, Canada, before being spotted in the city of Billings, Montana on Wednesday, according to US officials.
A top defense official reported that fighter jets, including F-22s, were prepared by the government in case the White House decided to shoot down the object.
Canada announced on Friday that it was keeping an eye on a “potential second occurrence” involving a surveillance balloon, but did not disclose the country behind it. The statement mentioned that Canada is closely working with the US to ensure the protection of sensitive information from foreign intelligence threats.
Key military figures, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, gathered on Wednesday to evaluate the threat. Secretary Austin was on a trip to the Philippines at the time of the meeting.
Montana, a state with low population density, houses one of the three nuclear missile silo fields in the country at Malmstrom Air Force Base. The spy balloon is suspected to have been collecting information by flying over sensitive sites.
However, military leaders advised against taking any “physical action” against the balloon as the falling debris could pose a risk to people on the ground.
What authorities said about Spy balloon?
The exact size of the balloon was not disclosed by the officials, but it was referred to as “considerable” and pilots were able to spot it even from a distance. US media reported an official comparing it to the size of three buses.
The Defense Department stated that there was no significant increase in the threat of US intelligence being compromised as American officials have precise knowledge of the balloon’s location and its flight path.
The balloon posed no threat to civilian aviation as it was flying significantly above the altitude used by commercial airlines.
The statement also stated that the balloon is unlikely to provide any information that China couldn’t already gather through satellites.
US officials stated that they have raised the issue with the Chinese embassy in Washington D.C. and with the officials in Beijing.
What Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said about “Chinese balloon”?
Mao Ning, the foreign ministry spokesperson for China, stated that Beijing is investigating the reports of the surveillance balloon. He also mentioned that “premature speculation and exaggeration will not contribute to a proper resolution of the issue until the facts are clear.”
Mao Ning emphasized that “China is a responsible nation and always adheres to international law. We have no intention of violating the sovereignty of any country’s territory or airspace.”
During the Pentagon briefing on Thursday, officials declined to reveal the current location of the aircraft and did not provide information on its point of origin.
They mentioned that similar surveillance balloons have been tracked in the past, but this one is “hanging around for a longer period of time.”
The sighting of the object created confusion on social media in Montana, with some users posting images of a pale round object in the sky. Some others reported seeing US military planes in the area, possibly monitoring the object.
Chase Doak, an office worker in Billings, told that he spotted a “big white circle in the sky” and went home to grab a better camera.
“I initially thought it might be a UFO,” he said. “So, I wanted to ensure I captured it properly by taking as many photos as possible.”
What Chinese state media said about the “Chinese balloon over US”?
The Global Times, a Chinese state media outlet, accused the US of heightening tensions between the two nations by creating a Cold War atmosphere.
The incident has also become a topic of discussion on Chinese social media, with many finding humor in the reported use of balloons for surveillance.
One user on Weibo wrote, “Why would we need a balloon when we have so many satellites?”
Senator Marco Rubio, who serves as the leading Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, criticized China’s alleged balloon.
He tweeted, “The level of espionage aimed at our country by Beijing has become dramatically more intense and bold over the last five years.”
Montana Governor Greg Gianforte, a Republican, released a statement calling the situation “deeply troubling” after being briefed on it.
More info on “Chinese spy balloon over Montana”
CIA Director William Burns, who was speaking at an unrelated event in Washington D.C., didn’t mention the balloon, but referred to China as the “biggest geopolitical challenge” facing the US.
The reported spy craft is likely to escalate tensions before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to China next week, marking the first visit to the country by a Biden administration cabinet secretary.
During his visit, the top US diplomat will discuss a range of issues, including security, Taiwan, and Covid-19.
According to the Financial Times, Blinken will also meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Balloons are one of the oldest forms of surveillance technology, and can be operated cost-effectively for extended periods of time without personnel compared to other aerial surveillance devices.