Chinese foreign ministry says US also flies balloons over China

China’s foreign ministry has accused the US of flying high-altitude balloons over its airspace more than 10 times since the beginning of last year, as the dispute over surveillance between the two countries continues.

A spokesperson told foreign reporters at a regular press briefing in Beijing that it was “not uncommon” for the US to go into other countries’ airspace, claiming they were aware of at least 10 incursions over China, but gave few other details.

“Since last year, the US’s high-altitude balloons have undergone more than 10 illegal flights into Chinese airspace without the approval of the relevant Chinese departments,” Wang Wenbin said, describing China’s reaction as “responsible and professional”.

The White House denied the accusation. “Any claim that the US government operates surveillance balloons over the PRC [People’s Republic of China] is false,” said National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson, adding that it was China “that has a high-altitude surveillance balloon programme for intelligence collection”.

The claim is the latest development in an escalating international controversy over a series of mysterious objects flying over North and Latin America, which the US military has shot down. The US cancelled a China visit by the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, planned amid bilateral efforts to improve relations, and has sanctioned six Chinese entities believed to support military spy balloon programs. The UK government has also announced a security review.

The first object was detected in late January and identified by the US as a Chinese spy balloon. China claimed the balloon was meteorological research equipment which had blown off course. The US government said the balloon was clearly navigable and for surveillance purposes, and it was shot down by an air-to-air missile on 4 February after being tracked for several days.

Beijing and state media reacted angrily, drumming up nationalistic fervour and accusing the US of overreaction. Lu Shaye, China’s ambassador to France, warned that it could become “a trigger point of conflicts” in bilateral relations.

On Monday, Wang said he had no understanding of the other flying objects.

“But what we want to tell everyone here is that the US’s frequent firing of advanced missiles to shoot down unidentified flying objects is an overreaction of excessive force.”

The US has shot down at least four flying objects over North America in recent days, including the first spy balloon which sparked the furore, and an unidentified object about the size of a small car that was flying over northern Alaska.

The most recent interaction involved what was described by US officials as an “octagonal structure” with strings attached. It was shot down over Lake Huron in Michigan after being picked up by radar over Montana on Sunday, just a day after another car-sized object was shot down over Canadian territory. Military officials and analysts have noted that the increase in detections may be due to the US recently adjusting its radar to track slower objects.

On Monday, the Financial Times reported Taiwanese officials claiming they had detected dozens of Chinese military balloons in their airspace in recent years, including just weeks ago.

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Dr Shen Ming-Shih, director of the national security research division at Taiwan’s Institute for National Defence and Security Research, said it was unlikely that all those balloons were specifically targeting Taiwan.

“They can use UAV [unmanned aerial vehicles], recon planes, and drones to check on Taiwan. Their radar can also cover Taiwan, so the don’t need to send balloons every month for Taiwan reconnaissance,” Shen said. Instead he suggested they could be on their way elsewhere.

“If China wants to launch a balloon to the US, Japan, the East China Sea, they all will go near Taiwan.”

Agence-France Presse contributed to this report


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