Is China Spying on the US or Did an Unmanned Aircraft Accidentally Enter US Airspace?

The U.S. government detected a surveillance balloon, but said it did not pose a military or physical threat, according to the Pentagon.

A Chinese airship that entered U.S. airspace on Wednesday had many Americans thinking they were being spied on.

Pentagon press secretary General Pat Ryder announced that the U.S. government detected a surveillance balloon on Feb.1, though he said it did not pose a military or physical threat to those on the ground, according to a press briefing.

“Instances of this kind of balloon activity have been observed previously over the past several years. Once the balloon was detected, the U.S. government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information," said Ryder.

A senior defense official said in the briefing that they were confident the balloon belonged to the People’s Republic of China. 

President Biden was briefed on the balloon and he requested military options but was advised not to take action due to possible safety risks, according to a senior defense official.

“Currently we assess that this balloon has limited additive value from an intelligence collection perspective. But we are taking steps, nevertheless, to protect against foreign intelligence collection of sensitive information,” said the senior defense official.

The defense official would not specify how long they had been tracking the surveillance but said that it had been going on for a few days, according to the briefing.

While the government isn’t taking steps to shoot down the balloon, the defense official did say they have been taking mitigating steps to prevent any foreign intelligence risk, according to the briefing. 

The Foreign Ministry spokesperson of the PRC issued a statement on the incident, saying “The airship is from China. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes.”

“Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course. The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure,” said the spokesperson. 

The spokesperson went on to say they “will continue communicating with the US side and properly handle this unexpected situation”. 

Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken canceled his scheduled trip to PRC in light of the incident. 

“The Secretary noted the PRC’s statement of regret but conveyed that this is an irresponsible act and a clear violation of U.S. sovereignty and international law that undermined the purpose of the trip,” said a spokesperson, Ned Price. “He underscored that the United States is committed to diplomatic engagement and maintaining open lines of communication, and that he would be prepared to visit Beijing as soon as conditions allow.”

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