DC (Associated Press) — On Sunday, Republican lawmakers accused China of conducting intentional surveillance of sensitive U.S. military sites using a suspected spy balloon, and claimed the Biden administration had given China an intelligence opening by failing to bring the balloon down during its high-altitude drift through American airspace.
But when American forces shot down the balloon, China accused them of using excessive force. The U.S. “attack on a Chinese civilian unmanned airship by military force,” as Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng put it, “was a serious matter that required me to file a formal complaint with the U.S. Embassy on Sunday.”
As if tensions between the United States and China weren’t already high enough, a military jet shot the balloon down over the Atlantic Ocean with a missile on Saturday. After the balloon crashed into the ocean off the coast of North Carolina, the United States’ top diplomat abruptly cancelled his trip there, and China’s defence ministry issued a statement saying it “reserves the right to take necessary measures to deal with similar situations.”
Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was quoted on Sunday as saying, “Clearly this was an attempt by China to gather information, to defeat our command and control of our sensitive missile defence and nuclear weapon sites.” This administration, unfortunately, does not see that as a pressing matter.
According to defence and military officials in the United States
The balloon crossed into U.S. air defence zone north of the Aleutian Islands on January 28 and travelled primarily over land across Alaska before entering Canadian airspace in the Northwest Territories on January 31. The White House claims that President Joe Biden was briefed on it on Tuesday, the same day it returned to U.S. territory over northern Idaho.
Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate in Kentucky, said, “It defies belief to suggest there was nowhere” between Alaska and the Carolinas where the United States could have safely shot down the balloon.
The administration is considering measures against the Chinese for “their brazen activities,” and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the full Senate will get a briefing next week on the balloon, including details about its surveillance capabilities. A clear message had been sent to China that this was not acceptable, he said, calling the GOP’s criticism political and premature.
A senior administration official has claimed that other Chinese balloons have transited the United States at least briefly on three separate occasions during the Trump administration, and once previously since Biden took office. The official claimed that information about Trump’s balloon transits didn’t become public until after Trump had left office and that intelligence agencies would brief outgoing administration officials on China’s global surveillance programmes.
Although Biden ordered the shootdown, he preferred that it take place on Wednesday. U.S. officials claimed he was told that a mission best carried out while over water. After careful consideration, military leaders decided that bringing the balloon down over land from 60,000 feet would put too many lives at risk.
Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who serves as vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, stated that the Chinese “were trying to send the message that they (the Chinese) believe internally,” which is that the United States is a once great superpower that is hollowed out, that is in decline. To paraphrase their manifesto: “Look, these guys can’t even do anything about a balloon flying over U.S. airspace. If something were to happen in the Indo-Pacific region, how could you possibly rely on them?”
On Wednesday, the balloon had crossed over Montana, home to Malmstrom Air Force Base and its fields of nuclear missile silos.
According to Turner, the Chinese “didn’t go and look at the Grand Canyon.” They toured our nuclear weapons facilities and missile defence installations across the country.
After the Pentagon revealed the balloon to the public on Thursday, Schumer told reporters on Sunday that “China manoeuvred the balloon to leave the U.S.” A U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the matter publicly confirmed that the balloon altered its course at that time.
China claimed the balloon, which was a civilian airship used primarily for meteorological research, had limited “self-steering” capabilities and had “deviated far from its planned course” due to winds, so the fact that it could be manoeuvred was evidence against China’s claims.
Clearly, this was no fluke. Obviously, this was done on purpose. In other words, it was clever. Ex-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, now retired, made this statement.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken was scheduled to visit China, and when asked if the Chinese military might have tried to sabotage the trip, Mullen said, “Clearly, I think that’s the case.”
In his words, “this really damages a relationship between us and China” and “puts a big dent in moving forward in a constructive way, which we really need to do.”
The message Beijing sends, according to Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), who heads a new House committee on China, is “look what we can do to you and get away with. It won’t be long before your country’s corporations and career politicians come scurrying back.
At around 2:39 p.m. EST on Saturday, the flight was brought to an end when a missile fired from an F-22 fighter jet punctured the balloon about 6 nautical miles off the coast near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, according to defence officials.
The debris settled in water only 47 feet deep, which was much less than officials had anticipated, and it spread out over a distance of about 7 miles. The time it takes to complete the recovery efforts was predicted to be days, not weeks, by officials.
The recovered pieces of the crashed balloon will be sent to the FBI laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, according to a U.S. official. The official didn’t want to be identified because he or she wasn’t supposed to talk about the plan.
U.S. intelligence was gathered on the balloon as it flew over the country, according to briefings given to reporters by defence officials. They claimed that the military determined the technology on the balloon did not provide the Chinese with significant intelligence beyond what it could already obtain from satellites, despite the fact that the U.S. took measures to mitigate the information it could gather as it moved along.
According to the Pentagon, a second balloon was spotted somewhere over Latin America. According to a statement released by the Colombian Air Force on Sunday, the country’s airspace had been breached on Friday morning by an object fitting the description of the Chinese balloon at an altitude of approximately 55,000 feet. The Air Force reported that it tracked the object’s flight until it left American airspace, and that the object never posed a threat to national security.
Social media users in neighbouring Venezuela reported seeing a balloon, but the government there refused to comment on the sightings. While China claims the balloon was a civilian aircraft that veered off course, President Nicolas Maduro’s government issued a statement condemning the United States for shooting it down.
During his appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Turner discussed As for the other candidates, Rubio appeared on “This Week” on ABC and “State of the Union” on CNN, while Mullen was featured on ABC and Gallagher was featured on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”
Reporters Michael Balsamo, Tara Copp, Eric Tucker, and Zeke Miller in Washington, as well as Joshua Goodman in Cusco, Peru, from the Associated Press, all worked on this piece.