Home / News / World /  Did China send a spy balloon to US? The latest US-China face-off explained

The US government spotted an air balloon floating more than 40,000 feet over Montana earlier this week and now it suspects that it is a surveillance balloon sent by China. A senior defence official said, as quoted by CNN “We are confident that this high-altitude surveillance balloon belongs to the [People’s Republic of China]. Instances of this activity have been observed over the past several years, including prior to this administration."

The incident is worrying of sorts as the location is sensitive since Montana is home to the Air Force’s 341st Missile Wing and its Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles. Here is all you need to know:

When the US spotted the balloon? 

The US first spotted the balloon earlier this week but the Biden administration disclosed it only on Thursday. Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said the US government has been tracking the balloon for several days as it made its way over the northern United States. 

How dangerous is its presence? 

There is still no clarity regarding the capabilities of this particular balloon. But, it is “traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground" and US defense officials are of the assumption it does not present a significant intelligence-gathering risk

Why hasn’t the Pentagon shot the balloon down?

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin advised President Joe Biden against shooting the balloon down because of the possible risk of falling debris. 

At one point the authorities were counting on the idea of shooting it down but later assessing its size they concluded that it was large enough to cause potential damage. It’s floating well above the altitude used by civilian aircraft, so is unlikely to pose any immediate danger to the public.

Why US thinks that China has sent the balloon? 

US officials said, as quoted by AFP, the Chinese have for decades complained about US surveillance by ships and spy planes near its own territory, leading to occasional confrontation over the years. 

Meanwhile, China’s foreign ministry said Friday that the nation has “no intention to violate other countries’ sovereignty and airspace." Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said Friday that Beijing was “gathering and verifying the facts" and hoped “the relevant parties will handle the matter in a cool-headed way."

How it is likely to affect the US-China relationship? 

The tense relationship between the US and China is at risk of straining further with this claim. Moreover, it comes at a very sensitive time as Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to travel to Beijing in the coming days, a significant trip meant to follow up on President Joe Biden’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping last year.

(With inputs from agencies)

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