The United States has shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the coast of the US state of South Carolina, a week after it entered US airspace and triggered a dramatic spying saga that worsened relations between Beijing and Washington.
“China expresses its strong dissatisfaction and protests against the use of force by the United States,” the statement issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry specifically states, adding that it “reserves the right” to respond.
The Canadian prime minister expressed his government’s support for Washington’s decision to shoot down the Chinese “spy” balloon “which violated US airspace and international law.”
According to a senior US Pentagon official, the balloon was shot down about six nautical miles from the US coast. It was hit by an AIM-9X missile fired from an F-22 fighter jet and there was no collateral damage or danger to civilians, he added.
The Chinese balloon entered US airspace on January 28, crossed into Canadian airspace on the 30th, and re-entered US airspace the next day. The US military will seek to retrieve the balloon’s payload. According to an official, the debris is scattered in a radius of 11 kilometers.
In a statement, the US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin emphasizes that this particular balloon was used by China in an attempt to monitor strategic US facilities.
Instead, Beijing claims that the balloon served “research purposes, mainly meteorological” and that it in no way constituted a military threat to the US. He had described his entry into US airspace as an “accident”, attributing it to reasons of “force majeure”. At the same time, he accused politicians and the media in the United States of taking advantage of the incident to smear China.