A suspected surveillance balloon spotted over Latin America is for “civilian usage” and entered the region’s airspace by accident, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman has said.
The balloon has been spotted after US fighter jets shot down an initial suspected Chinese spying device off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said in her regular briefing on Monday that the US should handle the spying saga in a calm, proper manner without the use of force.
Beijing also urged Washington not to escalate the issue or take further action to harm its interests.
Speaking about the initial suspected Chinese spy balloon that was seen over the US last week, Ms Mao said on Monday that the “civilian airship” had drifted into US skies in an “isolated and accidental incident caused by force majeure”.
She said: “China is a responsible country, and we’ve always strictly abided by international laws and respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other countries.
“History has proven that it is the US that has often violated international laws, invaded the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other countries.
“We have stated that this is completely an isolated and accidental incident caused by force majeure, but the US still hyped up the incident on purpose and even used force to launch an attack. This is an unacceptable and irresponsible action.”
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US President Joe Biden ordered the suspected spy balloon to be brought down, with a defence official saying China intended to use it to gather information from sensitive military sites.
Ms Mao said on Monday that the shooting down of the balloon was an “obvious overreaction”.
Meanwhile, Colombia’s military said on Sunday that it had sighted an airborne object similar to a balloon.
Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder confirmed over the weekend that a second balloon from China was being tracked.
He said: “We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America. We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon.”
Ms Mao said on Monday that the balloon is for civilian purposes with limited self-steering capabilities.
A desire to save face could make this costly saga escalate further
The fact China has now admitted to being responsible for two balloons flying across the Americas casts further doubt on its official explanation.
The saga has already had significant diplomatic costs. A scheduled visit by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to Beijing that was part of efforts on both sides to prevent further deterioration in relations between the two superpowers has been postponed.
It is unclear if China will respond further, it is possible it would now prefer the incident to just fizzle out.
The fear is that public pressure or a desire to save face may prompt further action.
The foreign ministry spokeswoman said: “As for the balloon in Latin America’s sky, we have learned and verified that the relevant unmanned airship is from China. It is of civilian usage and is used for flight tests.
“Affected by weather and due to limited self-control ability, the airship severely deviated from its set route and entered the space of Latin America and the Caribbean by accident.”
“China is a responsible country and has always abided by international laws.” she added, “it won’t pose any threats to any country. Relevant parties have also expressed understanding of this”.
The drama over the balloons has further strained tense relations, prompting Washington to cancel a planned visit to Beijing by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The US Navy is working to recover the balloon and its payload and the Coast Guard is providing security for the operation, General Glen VanHerck, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and US Northern Command, said on Sunday.
A successful recovery could potentially give the United States insight into China’s spying capabilities, although US
officials have downplayed the balloon’s impact on national security.
The row also comes after the US and China have been seeking to bolster communications and begin to mend ties that had been under severe strain in recent years over tensions on several fronts, including US efforts to block Chinese access to key cutting-edge technologies.