Alleged Spy Balloon Spotted over US is Weather Device, China Says

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China’s foreign ministry said Friday Beijing was working to “verify” reports of the balloon, adding that it had no intention of violating the territory and airspace of a sovereign state and that it hoped to handle the matter calmly and prudently with the US.

China said Friday an alleged spy balloon spotted over the United States was a “civilian airship” that had blown off course.

US defence officials said they believed the balloon, seen above sensitive areas in recent days, was in fact a “high-altitude surveillance” device.

But China, which had earlier urged calm and warned against speculation after the US and Canada said they were tracking the object, said in a statement through its foreign ministry that the device was used for “mainly meteorological” research purposes.

“Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course. The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into the US airspace due to force majeure,” China’s foreign ministry said.

The statement referred to the incident as an “unexpected situation” and said Beijing would continue to communicate with the US.

Officials said the balloon flew over Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and through Canada before entering US airspace in the state of Montana, home to some of the US’s nuclear missile silos, on Wednesday.

Pentagon Press Secretary Pat Ryder late Thursday said in a statement that the US government “has detected and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now”.

Canada’s Department of National Defense also said in a statement it was actively tracking the balloon and “taking steps to ensure the security of its airspace, including the monitoring of a potential second incident,” but did not elaborate on what the second incident might be.

US senior officials decided against shooting the balloon down because of the danger posed by falling debris, and the limited use of any intelligence the device could gather, a US defence official said.

The US government, however, prepared fighter jets in case the object had to be shot down. President Joe Biden had been informed of the balloon.

Canada said Friday it had summoned China’s ambassador over the incident and will continue to “vigorously express” its position to Chinese officials, noting that its intelligence agencies were working with the US and taking “all necessary measures to safeguard Canada’s sensitive information from foreign intelligence threats”.

China’s announcement comes ahead of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s two-day visit to Beijing on Sunday, the first visit by a US foreign minister to the country since 2018.