A U.S. fighter jet shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon Saturday, after it spent nearly a week floating over U.S. territory.
The airship fell into the Atlantic Ocean, about 10 kilometers off the coast of the U.S. state of South Carolina.
China’s foreign ministry said in a statement that the U.S. action was “an obvious overreaction and a serious violation of international standard practice,” and repeated its claim that the balloon was being used for meteorological research. The Pentagon said the balloon was being used for surveillance.
The airship first entered the U.S. air identification zone on Jan. 28, then crossed into Canadian airspace. The U.S. defense department said the balloon reentered U.S. airspace Tuesday. It was seen Thursday flying over Montana where U.S. nuclear missiles are siloed.
President Joe Biden ordered the balloon shot down as soon as it was safe to do so. The Pentagon chose to wait until the craft was over open water.
The U.S. has said it took measures to prevent the balloon from gathering any information as it crossed the country.
The discovery of the balloon is seen as ill-timed for Beijing. It happened right before U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was scheduled to visit China and meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Blinken canceled his trip after the discovery of the balloon.
Dennis Wilder, a former China analyst with the CIA, told VOA State Department Bureau Chief Nike Chang that the incident comes at a sensitive time for China’s leader.
“President Xi Jinping is on what I would call a charm offensive right now that started after zero-COVID was lifted,” Wilder said, “where he wants to tell the world that China is open for business again. He wants very much to see American investors come back.”
Wilder said he thinks the incident will set off a new round of tension between the US. And China. “If the United States is able to recover from the ocean information that shows that this indeed was a spy mission and not a meteorological mission and shows that evidence to the Chinese, we are going to embarrass the Chinese. We may well very much embarrass the People's Liberation Army. And so I think that that will be difficult to manage, particularly if the United States comes out very publicly with this information. So there's going to be a tense period here.”
Another Chinese balloon was spotted flying over Latin America.