PRC Launches Suspected Spy Balloon Above US, Biden Refuses to Shoot It Down
The United States Defense Department announced Thursday evening that a high-altitude balloon suspected to have been launched by the People's Republic of China is currently floating above the United States at 60,000 feet. This is part of a broader Chinese spying program that has seen many such devices sent over the nation, including some during the Trump administration, according to US officials.
The US government had considered shooting down the balloon, but determined that the resulting debris could endanger those on the ground. China has insisted that the aerial interloper is a weather balloon that went off course, not a surveillance system, while the White House said it is not a threat to anyone on the ground. However, the US Secretary of State has postponed a scheduled trip to Beijing, reportedly because of the situation.
The Pentagon said it had “very high confidence” that the balloon belongs to the People's Republic of China and has engaged with Chinese officials “with urgency, through multiple channels” regarding the presence of the balloon. The Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder said the balloon continues to move east over the central US and doesn't “present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.” The Pentagon has also taken steps to prevent the balloon from gathering intelligence on sensitive military operations.
On Friday, the White House declared that President Joe Biden would not take down the alleged Chinese espionage balloon, despite pressure from legislators and other people. A senior administration official said Biden was briefed on the balloon and asked the military to present options.
Antony Blinken, the Secretary of State, put off his journey to Beijing next week after a mysterious Chinese balloon was seen hovering above Montana on Friday.
Eyewitness accounts of the balloon started going viral on Thursday after pictures and video emerged from Montana of a large object in the sky – an object confirmed by the US military to be a high-altitude surveillance balloon launched by the People’s Republic of China.
The PRC has claimed that the balloon is devoted to research, but US officials are downplaying claims that it is on a weather-related mission. On Friday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry verified that the balloon was from China, noting it was gathering meteorological data and had been carried away from its intended route. The Pentagon said the balloon is travelling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.
The situation comes at a time of increased tension between China and the US over national security.
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