US military has begun tracking a Chinese spy balloon suspected of flying over Northwestern America in the recent days.
Senior defense officials stated that the US had “very high confidence” that it was a Chinese high altitude balloon. They were flying over sensitive areas to collect information.
The official stated that the balloon was intended for surveillance.
Beijing didn’t immediately deny that it belonged to them.
Mao Ning, spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry said that they are investigating the matter.
“We hope that both sides can manage the matter calmly, and prudently.
“I want to stress that speculation and hype won’t be helpful until all facts are known.”
On Wednesday, the balloon was seen over Billings Montana. It was close to Malmstrom Air Force Base, one of three US nuclear missile silo fields.
It flew also over the Aleutian Islands off the coast Alaska and through Canada.
Although the balloon is still in US airspace, officials have declined to give any information about its current location.
Although they acknowledged that it was operating above civil air traffic and below “outer-space”, they declined to give an exact height.
Defense and military leaders considered shooting the balloon from the sky, but they decided against it due the safety risk of falling debris.
Lloyd Austin, the US defense secretary, convened a meeting with senior military and defense leaders to discuss the threat profile and possible responses to the balloon. These were presented to Joe Biden the US President on Wednesday.
The US engaged Chinese officials with “urgency” and made clear the seriousness of this situation.
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Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, Pentagon Press Secretary, stated that the United States government had detected and was tracking a high-altitude surveillance satellite over the United States.
“The US government will include NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command), and continues to monitor and track it closely.
“The balloon is at an altitude that is well above commercial air traffic, and doesn’t pose a threat to anyone on the ground.
“Such balloon activity has been seen in the past over several years.
“Once the balloon had been detected, the US government immediately acted to prevent the collection of sensitive data.”
“Potential second incident”
Canada’s national defense stated that Canadians are safe, and that officials are taking steps in order to secure its airspace. This includes monitoring for “a possible second incident”.
The statement stated that NORAD, Canada’s Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence have been closely coordinating their assessment of the situation.
“Canada’s intelligence agencies work with American partners. They continue to take all necessary precautions to protect Canada’s sensitive information against foreign intelligence threats.
“We keep in regular contact with our American allies as this situation evolves.”
China and the USA have been at odds in recent times, with tensions over Taiwan and China’s human rights record as well as its military activities in the South China Sea.
The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to China in the next few days.
It is unclear if this will impact his travel plans. The State Department has not officially announced.