US mulls downing Chinese 'spy balloon' over Atlantic Ocean: Reports
The US considers shooting down the balloon, according to US officials who said the move would require a "localized airspace shutdown" during the operation in order to protect civilians.
The United States is considering shooting down the alleged Chinese "spy balloon" in the US airspace when it reaches the Atlantic Ocean, the ABC broadcaster reported, citing a senior US official.
The US might wait for the balloon to be over the Atlantic and then try to shoot it down and find its fragments, ABC added, adding that in order to protect civilians, the move would require a "localized airspace shutdown" during the operation.
US officials are working on plans to make the balloon land in the US territorial waters after they shoot it down, as Washington wants to study it, according to the broadcaster.
The Pentagon said on Thursday it was tracking a Chinese "spy balloon" flying high over the northwest United States, just days ahead of a rare visit to Beijing by the 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.
A senior defense official told reporters on Thursday 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.
The official indicated that the balloon had flown over the northwest United States, where there are sensitive airbases and strategic nuclear missiles in underground silos, adding that the Pentagon did not believe it constituted a particularly dangerous intelligence threat.
Canada also said it was working with the United States to track the surveillance balloon, and it was monitoring a "potential second incident."
On Friday, China stated it was working to verify the facts around US claims that Beijing flew a "spy balloon" over its territory, warning against "hype" over the issue.
According to the senior defense official, China has sent surveillance balloons over the United States in the past, but this one has lingered in US airspace much longer.
Beijing's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said via a spokesperson that China regretted the unintended breach of US airspace. The spokesperson said that the device had strayed away from its planned course due to force majeure.
Blinken's visit postponed
On Friday, the US State Department announced that Secretary of State Antony Blinken would not leave for Beijing later in the day as initially planned due to the balloon incident.
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.
Another "spy balloon"?
Moreover, the Pentagon confirmed today, 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.
It is worth noting that 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.