Home / News / World /  Chinese balloon to remain over US skies for few days, says Pentagon; Beijing regrets 'unintended' breach

The Chinese surveillance balloon will probably be over the United States for a few days, but will continue to monitor the situation, the Pentagon has said.

This development has angered the US and in protest has cancelled the Beijing trip of Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He was scheduled to leave for China on Friday night. This would have been the first visit of a top American diplomat to China in several years. The postponing of Blinken's trip, which had been agreed to in November by Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, is a blow to those on both sides who saw it as an overdue opportunity to stabilize an increasingly fractious relationship. The last visit by a U.S. secretary of state was in 2017.

In response, Beijing said on Friday it regretted an "unintended" breach of US airspace by what it described as an unmanned civilian airship, after the Pentagon said it was tracking a Chinese spy balloon. "The airship is from China," a spokesperson for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. "It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes." "The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure," the statement said.

President Joe Biden was briefed about the violation of US airspace by China and is closely monitoring the developing situation, the White House said adding that as of now they have decided against destroying it because of the safety of the public, but all actions are on table.

“We will continue to monitor it. Right now, we assess that it'll probably be over the United States for a few days, but we'll continue to review our options and keep you updated as we can," Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters at the Department of Defence.

“It's got a large payload underneath the surveillance component, underneath the actual balloon piece of it," Ryder said, adding that the surveillance balloon has maneuverability capabilities. Right now at this point, it's moving eastward across the United States, currently over about the central United States, he said.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that the US has noted the Chinese statement of regret. “But the presence of this balloon in our airspace, it is a clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law, and it is unacceptable that this occurred," she said.

Both the White House and the Pentagon said that it does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground. “President Biden was briefed. He has asked the military to present options. It was the strong recommendation by (Defence) Secretary (Lloyd) Austin, Chairman Milley, the commander of Northern Command not to take kinetic action because of the risk to safety and security of the people on the ground," Jean-Pierre said.

“We do know that it is a surveillance balloon. In terms of the size, I'm not able to get into the specifics other than to say that it is big enough that, again, in reviewing our approach we do recognise that any potential debris field would be significant and potentially cause civilian injuries or deaths or significant property damage," Ryder said.

“This is part of the calculus in terms of our overall assessment, but again, we'll continue to monitor it. We'll continue to review our options and keep you updated as able," he said.

Earlier in the morning, in a phone call with the Chinese counterpart, Blinken told Director of the CCP Central Foreign Affairs Office Wang Yi that he will not be travelling to the People’s Republic of China at this time in light of the current presence of a high-altitude PRC surveillance balloon in US airspace.

At a news conference with South Korea's visiting foreign minister later on Friday, Blinken said he had told Wang Yi, director of China's Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, that the incident on the eve of his trip was an "irresponsible act" by China, but Washington remained committed to engagement and he would visit when conditions allowed.

Blinken said he was not going to put a date on when he might go to China and the focus was on resolving the current incident. “The first step is ... getting the surveillance asset, out of our air space," he said, adding that the United States would continue to maintain open lines of communication with China.

(With inputs from agencies)

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