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US looks for Chinese balloon debris

#Chinese #balloon #debris

US navy personnel worked to recover on Sunday the debris of a suspected Chinese spy balloon shot down after it floated over North America for days.

China voiced anger on Sunday at the shooting down of the balloon, which it insists was an unmanned weather surveillance aircraft that had veered off course.

“The United States’ actions have seriously impacted and damaged both sides’ efforts and progress in stabilising Sino-US relations,” Chinese vice foreign minister Xie Feng said.

The balloon’s detection had already prompted the cancellation of a planned visit US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who had been due to arrive in Beijing on Sunday.

Hoewever Rebublicans continued to savage US President Joe Biden’s handling of the incident, saying the balloon should have been shot down earlier and accusing him being soft on China.

The aircraft spent several days flying over North America, before Washington on Saturday said an F-22 fighter jet had shot it down off the coast of South Carolina, because of what it called Beijing’s “unacceptable violation” of US sovereignty.

Pentagon officials on Friday had described the airship as a “high-altitude surveillance balloon,” adding that Washington had taken steps to block it from collecting sensitive information.

General Glen VanHerck, commander of US forces in North America, said in a statement Sunday that navy personnel were “currently conducting recovery operations, with the US Coast Guard assisting in securing the area and maintaining public safety.”

Beijing has said the balloon was primarily gathering weather data and that it had been blown off course.

– ‘More intel’ –

Chuck Schumer, the US Senate Democratic leader, said the downing of the balloon by a fighter jet “wasn’t just the safest option, but it was the one that maximized our intel gain.” 

That was because any instrumentation on the airship was more likely to survive a water landing.

“We sent a clear message to China that this is unacceptable,” he said in a statement. 

“We protected civilians. We gained more intel while protecting our own sensitive information.”

He said the full Senate would receive a classified briefing on February 15.

In an interview with ABC News, former US Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Mike Mullen was asked if he thought elements in the Chinese military might have launched the balloon intentionally to disrupt the Blinken visit.

“Clearly, I think that’s the case,” he replied.

Mullen said the craft was maneuverable and he rejected China’s suggestion it might have blown off course.

“It has propellers on it,” he said. “This was not an accident. This was deliberate. It was intelligence.”

Blinken’s visit would have been the first to China by a US secretary of state since Mike Pompeo’s in 2018.

Plans for the visit were announced after Biden held a rare summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Bali in November.

– Anger –

Moments ahead of the announcement of the cancellation of Blinken’s trip to Beijing, China had issued a rare apology for the incident. 

With the announcement of Blinken’s cancellation compounded by the shooting down of the craft, the tone of China’s statements flipped from apologetic to anger.

Vice foreign minister Xie warn that Beijing “reserves the right to make further necessary reactions”.

Beijing resident Li Yize, 23, told AFP he thought Washington’s decision to shoot down the balloon was “a way for the United States to show its military power.” 

“I think that if China were in the United States’ place and an aerial probe had entered the territory, China would also have dealt with it severely,” Li added.

– Balloon over Colombia? –

The Pentagon said on Friday a second  Chinese spy balloon had been seen across Latin America.

Colombia’s air force then reported over the weekend an object with “characteristics similar to those of a balloon” was detected and “monitored until it left the national air space.” 

The air force said it was conducting investigations in coordination with other countries and institutions “to establish the origins of the object.”

In the United States, the Biden administration continued to come under fire from the Republicans over its handling of the incident.

“As usual when it comes to national defense and foreign policy, the Biden administration reacted at first too indecisively and then too late,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said on Twitter.

“We should not have let the People’s Republic of China make a mockery of our airspace.”

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