Pentagon suspects second Chinese 'spy balloon' over Latin America
Beijing says US media and politicians used the balloon incident "as a pretext to smear China."
Pentagon confirmed, on Saturday, that a Chinese "spy balloon" has been tracked over Latin America, one day after a similar aircraft was seen in US skies.
At the time, Pentagon Press Secretary Pat Ryder said the Chinese research balloon that accidentally breached US airspace on Thursday poses no threat to people on the ground.
A senior defense official told reporters that at US President Joe Biden's request, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and top military officials considered shooting the balloon down but decided that doing so would endanger too many people on the ground.
"Clearly, the intent of this balloon is for surveillance," the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, considered.
The Pentagon added that the first balloon was now heading eastward over the central United States.
Later Friday, Ryder said, "We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America."
"We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon," he stressed, without specifying its exact location.
Meanwhile, Beijing's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, via a spokesperson, that China regretted the unintended breach of US airspace in reference to the accidental entry of a Chinese unmanned airship into US airspace on Friday.
"The airship is from China," the statement read. "It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes."
The big picture
The discovery of the aircraft comes just days before an expected visit to China by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, following a meeting last November between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 summit. The visit was supposed to be Blinken's first trip to an Asian country since 2018.
Blinken postponed his trip to Beijing over the incident, hours before he was supposed to depart for China.
Simultaneously, China's Foreign Ministry released another statement addressing Blinken's announcement.
"China... never violated the territory and airspace of any sovereign country," it said.
"Some politicians and media in the United States used the (balloon) incident as a pretext to attack and smear China," it tersely stated.
Furthermore, the Ministry affirmed that maintaining communication channels at all levels was important, "especially in dealing with some unexpected situations in a calm and reliable manner."
The statement further said in reference to Blinken's trip, which was to have begun Sunday and had been widely publicized in the United States, "As a matter of fact, neither China nor the United States has announced any visit."
"It is the United States' own decision to release the relevant information and we respect that," the statement concluded by saying.
Relations between the US and China have deteriorated particularly over Taiwan, with Washington selling arms to Taipei, as Biden has said he would help protect the island in case of an alleged Chinese attack.
Tensions over Taiwan reached a peak last year when Nancy Pelosi, then-speaker of the US House of Representatives, visited the island in a provocative move. After Republicans gained control of the chamber in January, questions have been raised over whether her successor will make a similar trip.