BEIJING — China said Friday, Feb. 3, 2023 that it is looking into reports that a Chinese spy balloon has been flying in US airspace and urged calm, adding that it has “no intention of violating the territory and airspace of any sovereign country.”
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning also said she had no information about whether a trip to China by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken planned for next week will proceed as scheduled.
At a daily briefing, Mao said that politicians and the public should withhold judgment “before we have a clear understanding of the facts” about the spy balloon reports.
Blinken would be the highest-ranking member of President Joe Biden’s administration to visit China, arriving amid efforts to mitigate a sharp downturn in relations between Beijing and Washington over trade, Taiwan, human rights and China’s claims in the South China Sea.
“China is a responsible country and has always strictly abided by international laws, and China has no intention of violating the territory and airspace of any sovereign country. As for the balloon, as I’ve mentioned just now, we are looking into and verifying the situation and hope that both sides can handle this together calmly and carefully,” Mao said.
“As for Blinken’s visit to China, I have no information,” she said.
A senior defense official told Pentagon reporters that the US has “very high confidence” that the object was a Chinese high-altitude balloon and was flying over sensitive sites to collect information.
One of the places the balloon was spotted was over the state of Montana, which is home to one of America’s three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.
Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said the balloon is “currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.”
Ryder said similar balloon activity has been seen in the past several years and the government has taken steps to ensure no sensitive information was stolen.
President Biden was briefed and asked the military to present options, according to a senior administration official, who was also not authorized to publicly discuss sensitive information.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, advised against taking “kinetic action” because of risks to the safety of people on the ground. Biden accepted that recommendation.
The defense official said the US has “engaged” Chinese officials through multiple channels and communicated the seriousness of the matter.
Blinken’s visit was expected to start this Sunday, Feb. 5, in an effort to try to find common ground on issues from trade policy to climate change. Although the trip has not been formally announced, both Beijing and Washington have been talking about his imminent arrival. (AP)
A HIGH altitude balloon floats over Billings, Montana on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. The US is tracking a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that has been spotted over US airspace for a couple days, but the Pentagon decided not to shoot it down due to risks of harm for people on the ground, officials said Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. The Pentagon would not confirm that the balloon in the photo was the surveillance balloon. / AP
February 04, 2023
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