US says China’s military involved in spy balloon’s incursion; mulls action

  • The huge balloon was shot down by a US fighter jet on Saturday off the coast of South Carolina in the Atlantic Ocean

Updated10 Feb 2023, 02:10 AM IST
The Chinese spy balloon drifts to the ocean after being shot down off the coast in Surfside Beach, South Carolina, US, on Saturday
The Chinese spy balloon drifts to the ocean after being shot down off the coast in Surfside Beach, South Carolina, US, on Saturday(REUTERS)

The US is confident that China's military supported the surveillance balloon's incursion into its airspace and it will explore taking action against the Chinese entities linked to the programme that targeted more than 40 countries across five continents, an official here said on Thursday.

The huge balloon was shot down by a US fighter jet on Saturday off the coast of South Carolina in the Atlantic Ocean. It had hovered over continental America for several days after entering the US airspace on January 30 in Montana.

"We know the PRC (People's Republic of China) has overflown these surveillance balloons over more than 40 countries across five continents. The Biden Administration is reaching out to countries directly about the scope of this programme and answer any questions,” a senior State Department official said.

“China acted irresponsibly by violating our sovereignty. This is not something that only American people have seen in recent days. China's irresponsible actions were visible to the world”: US department of State Spokesperson Ned price said on Thursday. 

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official asserted that it is known that China used these balloons for surveillance.

"We know these balloons are all part of a PRC (People's Republic of China) fleet of balloons developed to conduct surveillance operations. These kinds of activities are often undertaken at the direction of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA),” said the official.

The official said that the US is confident that the balloon manufacturer has a direct relationship with China's military and is an approved vendor of the PLA, according to information published in an official procurement portal for the PLA.

"The company also advertises balloon products on its website and hosts videos from past flights, which appear to have overflown at least US airspace and airspace of other countries. These advertised balloon videos seemingly have similar flight patterns as the balloons we have been discussing this week,” the official said.

"The United States will also explore taking action against PRC entities linked to the PLA that supported the balloon's incursion into US airspace. We will also look at broader efforts to expose and address the PRC’s larger surveillance activities that pose a threat to our national security, and to our allies and partners,” said the official.

US officials have described the balloon as being about 60m tall, with the payload portion comparable in size to a regional aircraft.

China has acknowledged that the balloon was theirs but denied that it was for surveillance purposes rather for weather monitoring and that it had drifted off course. Beijing has alleged that the US has violated international law by shooting down its balloon.

"High resolution imagery from U-2 flybys revealed that the high-altitude balloon was capable of conducting signals intelligence collection operations. The high altitude balloons’ equipment was clearly for intelligence surveillance and inconsistent with the equipment onboard weather balloons,” the official alleged.

"It had multiple antennas to include an array likely capable of collecting and geo-locating communications. It was equipped with solar panels large enough to produce the requisite power to operate multiple active intelligence collection sensors," the official said, days after the surveillance balloon was shot down by fighter jets.

The US sent a clear message to China that violation of its sovereignty was unacceptable by shooting down the balloon, protecting its own sensitive intelligence, and maximising its ability to track the balloon and recover the payload to get more information on Chinese programme.

From China's messaging and public comments, it’s clear that they have been scrambling to explain why they violated US sovereignty and still have no plausible explanation – and have found themselves on their heels, the official said.

"As we saw with the second balloon over Central and South America that they just acknowledged, they also have no explanation for why they violated the airspace of Central and South American countries. The PRC’s programme will only continue to be exposed, making it harder for the PRC to use this programme," the senior official added.

Reacting to the statements from Washington, China on Thursday repeated its stand that the large unmanned balloon was a civilian meteorological airship that had accidentally blown off course and that the US had "overreacted" by shooting it down.

Responding to questions at a foreign ministry briefing in Beijing, ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said that she has not heard of China possessing a "fleet of balloons."

"I am not aware of any "fleet of balloons"," Mao said.

"That narrative is probably part of the information and public opinion warfare the US has waged on China. As to who is the world's number one country of spying, eavesdropping and surveillance, that is plainly visible to the international community," she said, referring to the US.

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First Published:10 Feb 2023, 02:10 AM IST
HomeNewsWorldUS says China’s military involved in spy balloon’s incursion; mulls action

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