A week after it first entered American airspace and set off a dramatic and public spying saga that deteriorated Sino-U.S. relations, a U.S. military fighter jet shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina.
President Joe Biden asserted on Wednesday that he had given the order to deflate the balloon over open water despite the Pentagon’s recommendation against it to protect people from debris falling to Earth from thousands of feet (meters) above commercial air traffic.
Biden stated: “I want to thank the pilots who did it for us. They were able to destroy it.”
According to a senior U.S. military official, one F-22 fighter jet from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia fired the shot at 2:39 p.m. (1939 GMT) using a lone AIM-9X supersonic, heat-seeking air-to-air missile. The mission included both fighter and refueling aircraft in large numbers.
China strongly condemned the military action against an airship that it claimed was used for meteorological and other scientific purposes and that had “completely accidentally” strayed into American airspace, claims that were categorically denied by American officials.
China’s foreign ministry issued a statement saying that it had “clearly asked the U.S. to handle this properly in a calm, professional, and restrained manner.” The United States insisted on using force, which was clearly an overreaction.
According to U.S. officials, the balloon was shot down over relatively shallow water about six nautical miles off the American coast of the Atlantic Ocean. This could help efforts to recover pieces of the Chinese surveillance equipment in the coming days.
The debris field, according to a U.S. military official, covered seven miles (11 km) of ocean, and several U.S. military vessels were present.
The balloon was brought down shortly after the United States government banned flights into and out of Wilmington, Myrtle Beach, and Charleston airports in South Carolina due to an unspecified “national security effort,” according to the government at the time. On Saturday afternoon, flights started up again.
While the military aspect of the spying saga is over thanks to Saturday’s shootdown, Biden is likely to continue to come under intense political pressure from Republican rivals in Congress who claim he didn’t act quickly enough.
After shooting down the balloon, the U.S. government, according to a senior administration official, directly discussed the incident with China. According to the official, the State Department also briefed allies and partners globally.
There are still unanswered questions regarding how much data China may have gathered during the balloon’s journey across America.
On January 28, the balloon entered Alaskan airspace of the United States, and on January 30, it entered Canadian airspace. On January 31, it later re-entered American airspace over northern Idaho, according to a U.S. defense official. It did not return to open waters after crossing over American territory, making a shootdown challenging.
The balloon’s location over the country was not made public by American officials until Thursday.
Republican U.S. Representative Mike Rogers, who chairs the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, said that it is obvious the Biden administration intended to conceal this national security failure from Congress and the American people.
This criticism may have prompted Biden to emphasize on Saturday that he had ordered the balloon to be shot down as soon as possible days earlier.
Biden’s potential opponent in the 2024 election, former President Donald Trump, called earlier this week for the balloon to be shot down and has attempted to position himself as being more assertive than Biden on China. The U.S.-China relationship is probably going to be a major topic of discussion in the 2024 presidential election.
According to a U.S. official, Washington had reported the shootdown to Beijing on Saturday after describing the balloon’s appearance as a “clear violation” of American sovereignty.
Nevertheless, officials on Saturday seemed to minimize the balloon’s influence on American national security.
The senior U.S. defense official stated, “Our assessment—and we’ll learn more as we pick up the debris—was that it was not likely to provide significant additive value over and above other (Chinese) intel capability, such as satellites in low-Earth orbit.
A stream from a jet struck the balloon, according to a Reuters photographer who witnessed the shootdown, but there was no explosion. Then it started to drop.
According to the Pentagon, the balloon was a component of a fleet of Chinese spy balloons. It was reported that a second Chinese balloon was passing over Latin America on Friday.
East Asian, South Asian, and European nations have all previously seen Chinese balloons over the course of several years, according to the U.S. official
Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a trip to China this week that was scheduled to begin on Friday as a result of the alleged spy balloon.
Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping had agreed to postpone Blinken’s trip in November, which came as a disappointment to those who saw it as a long overdue chance to mend the increasingly strained relations between the two nations.
China wants a stable relationship with the United States so that it can concentrate on its economy, which has been hurt by the now-abandoned zero-COVID policy and ignored by foreign investors who are concerned about what they perceive to be a return of state intervention in the market.