U.S. Confirms Shooting Down of Chinese Surveillance Balloon, Tensions Escalate

The U.S. government has shot down four unidentified flying objects over North America in the last week, including a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that sparked a furor when it was spotted over Montana on Feb. 4.[0] Since then, three more unidentified objects have been shot down over Alaska, Canada and Lake Huron.[1]

The U.S. Pentagon has confirmed that the initial object shot down was part of a Chinese surveillance program that has spanned the globe for years. It allegedly contained sensitive equipment that could be used to listen to Americans' communications and pinpoint the locations of those talking on the ground.[2]

The Pentagon said the balloons have been detected in most regions of the Earth, including Southeast Asia, South and Central America, Europe, and the Middle East.[2] China's foreign ministry has denied that the balloon was part of a surveillance mission, saying it was a civilian airship used for research.[3]

Taiwanese officials have also claimed to have detected dozens of Chinese military balloons in their airspace in recent years, including just weeks ago.[0] Since the start of 2022, the U.S. has allegedly launched a minimum of 10 balloons into Chinese airspace, according to Chinese authorities.[4]

The White House National Security Council has denied the accusations and John Kirby, the Coordinator for Strategic Communications at the Council said there was no evidence so far that the three most recent objects were related to the Chinese surveillance balloon program.[5]

The U.S. Navy has since released photos of the recovery of the remnants of the Chinese spy balloon and a classified briefing was held on Capitol Hill on Tuesday morning.[6] Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Mark Warner told reporters after the briefing that it was clear the objects posed no immediate harm to Americans on the ground.[4]

At a press conference in Brussels Tuesday, General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed that no debris from any of the items destroyed in the last seven days has been found. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was also present.[1] Chairman Milley disclosed that the initial U.S. missile missed its mark when trying to take out the target that was shot down over Lake Huron on Sunday.[5]

The incident has caused tensions between the U.S. and China to escalate, with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken cancelling a planned trip to Beijing in response. The White House has defended its decision to wait to shoot down the balloon until it was over water, saying it was over fears it could provoke an escalation of military tensions with China or even a military conflict.

0. “Chinese foreign ministry says US also flies balloons over China” The Guardian, 13 Feb. 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/feb/13/chinese-foreign-ministry-says-us-also-flies-balloons-over-china

1. “White House says a leading explanation for the 3 downed unidentified objects is that they were commercial or benign” NBC News, 14 Feb. 2023, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/national-security/white-house-says-leading-explanation-3-downed-unidentified-objects-com-rcna70588

2. “Why U.S. Air Defenses Failed to Spot Chinese Spy Balloons” TIME, 10 Feb. 2023, https://time.com/6254681/chinese-balloons-us-air-defense-network-failure

3. “The UFOs and Chinese balloon are a Sputnik moment for the space industry” Vox.com, 7 Feb. 2023, https://www.vox.com/world/2023/2/7/23588464/suspect-spy-china-balloon-sputnik-moment-space-race

4. “A ‘leading explanation' is 3 downed objects were commercial, benign balloons, White House says” ABC News, 14 Feb. 2023, https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/leading-explanation-3-downed-objects-commercial-benign-balloons/story?id=97189258

5. “White House: No indication yet downed objects were part of China spy balloon program” Axios, 14 Feb. 2023, https://www.axios.com/2023/02/14/kirby-no-indication-objects-china-spy-program

6. “New photos show the Navy recovering downed China spy balloon off U.S. coast” CNBC, 7 Feb. 2023, https://www.cnbc.com/2023/02/07/china-spy-balloon-new-photos-show-the-us-navy-recovering-downed-aircraft-off-us-coast.html