US Shoots Down Chinese Surveillance Balloon, Sparks Diplomatic Dispute
In the past week, the US has shot down four objects over North America, including a Chinese surveillance balloon that sparked a major diplomatic dispute. Prior to the balloon being shot down, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken had already canceled a planned trip to China after it was spotted.
The balloon flew over military sites and the Pentagon said it was a surveillance balloon, which China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied, saying “it is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes.” The U-2 spy planes that flew by the balloon provided high-resolution imagery showing an array of surveillance equipment which had the ability to capture communications signals, according to a State Department official. The balloon, equipped with a motor and propellers, was capable of maneuvering and flew over sensitive military sites.
US President Joe Biden said the balloon was “gathering information over America.” The balloon was shot down off the South Carolina coast on Feb. 4. Personnel from the Navy and Coast Guard were dispatched to gather the wreckage in waters close to the shoreline, which were relatively shallow. In the following days, multiple airborne objects were brought down, though it was uncertain as to what they were.
The US believes the suspected Chinese surveillance balloons are part of a larger global network that Beijing operates and have been tracked in 40 countries across five continents. The US military is considering the use of balloons to collect intelligence and track targets in the Middle East, and the US military has trained with allies and partners, including the Philippines in 2022 as part of their annual joint military exercises.
The US military has seen high-altitude balloons in the region before, but that they have “not been a threat,” according to Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, commander of Air Forces Central. Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck revealed that the actual balloon was up to 200 feet tall and that it was carrying a payload the size of a jet airliner. 
Thompson reported that the US is utilizing balloons for surveillance in collaboration with allies and partners, including the Philippines, as part of their yearly joint military drills in 2022. At a news conference on Monday, Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for the ministry, asserted that it is commonplace for American balloons to unlawfully enter the airspace of other nations.
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