03 Feb 2023, 09:20
Update : 04 Feb 2023, 10:09

Pentagon tracking Chinese spy balloon over US

WASHINGTON, Feb 3, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - The Pentagon said Thursday it was
tracking a Chinese spy balloon flying high over the United States, reviving
tensions between the two countries just days ahead of a rare visit to Beijing
by the top US diplomat.

At President Joe Biden's request, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and top
military officials considered shooting the balloon down but decided doing so
would endanger too many people on the ground, a senior defense official told
reporters Thursday.

"Clearly, the intent of this balloon is for surveillance," said the official,
who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official added that the balloon had flown over the northwest United
States, where there are sensitive airbases and nuclear missiles in
underground silos, but that the Pentagon did not believe it constituted a
particularly dangerous intelligence threat.

"We assess that this balloon has limited additive value from an intelligence
collection perspective," the official said.

The discovery of the aircraft comes just days before an expected visit to
China by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, with managing heightened
tensions between the two powers at the top of the agenda.

Blinken's visit to Beijing, which follows a meeting last November between
Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 summit,
will be the first trip to the Asian country by the United States' top
diplomat since 2018.

In addition to ongoing disputes over trade and intellectual property,
relations between the two countries have frayed, particularly over
democratically-governed Taiwan, which China has pledged to reunite with the

The United States has been selling arms to Taiwan to defend itself, and Biden
has said Washington would help protect the island if China attacked.

- No military threat -

The defense official said that the balloon entered US airspace "a couple days
ago," but that American intelligence had been tracking it well before that.

Austin, who was in the Philippines, held discussions Wednesday with top
Pentagon officials after Biden asked about options for dealing with the

Fighter jets were flown to examine it while it was above Montana as
discussions took place.

But the Pentagon decision was "not to take kinetic action due to the risk to
safety and security of people on the ground from the possible debris field,"
the official said.

Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder confirmed the balloon was still being tracked
over US airspace.

"The balloon is currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air
traffic. It does not present a military or physical threat to people on the
ground," Ryder said in a statement.

Canada's defense department said late Thursday it was working with the United
States to track a balloon, while signaling there could be other surveillance

"Canadians are safe and Canada is taking steps to ensure the security of its
airspace, including the monitoring of a potential second incident," the
department said, without giving further details or mentioning China.

Beijing has sent surveillance balloons over the United States in the past.

However, this one has lingered in US airspace much longer, the senior US
defense official said.

"We are taking steps nevertheless to protect against foreign intelligence
collection of sensitive information," the official said.

Austin was in the Philippines this week to strengthen US defense cooperation,

including gaining wider access for Pentagon forces at Philippine military
bases, in a move that highlights the US view of China as a threat to East

The defense official said "the seriousness of the issue" with the balloon had
been raised with Beijing officials.

"We have made clear we will do whatever is necessary to protect our people in
our own land."

China offered no immediate comment on the issue.

Tensions over Taiwan reached a furor last year when Nancy Pelosi, then-
speaker of the US House of Representatives, chose to visit the island.

After Republicans gained control of the chamber in January, questions have
been raised over whether her successor will make a similar trip.

"China's brazen disregard for U.S. sovereignty is a destabilizing action that
must be addressed, and President Biden cannot be silent," current Speaker
Kevin McCarthy tweeted Thursday evening.

  • Latest News
  • Most View