US shoots down Chinese balloon over Atlantic

US shoots down Chinese balloon over Atlantic

The United States shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday after it ripped through sensitive military installations and became the latest flashpoint between Washington and Beijing.

“This afternoon, under the direction of President Biden, US warplanes assigned to the country’s Northern Command successfully shot down the high-altitude surveillance balloon belonging to and launched by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) over the waters off the coast of South Carolina,” US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin confirmed in a written communication.

Subsequently, an operation was underway in US territorial waters in the Atlantic Ocean to recover debris from the balloon, which was flying at an altitude of about 60,000 feet and was estimated to be the size of three school buses.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the US decision was “an overreaction and a serious violation of regular international practices,” reiterating that the balloon was used for meteorological research.

The Pentagon claimed it was used for surveillance.

Austin confirmed that President Biden had given the authorization to shoot down the balloon as early as Wednesday, “as soon as the mission could be accomplished without undue risk to the lives of Americans in the path of the balloon.”

The Federal Aviation Administration and the Coast Guard coordinated to clear the airspace of the area and the waters below.

Television images showed a small explosion, followed by the balloon’s descent into the water.

The Secretary of Defense pointed out that the action was taken in coordination with the Canadian government, which provided monitoring and analysis of the balloon through the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD, for its acronym in English).

Officials were aiming to time the operation so they could recover as much debris as possible before it sinks into the ocean. The Pentagon had previously estimated that the balloon, which was flying at about 60,000 feet in the air, was the size of three school buses and that any debris field would be considerable.

Biden would have been inclined not to shoot it down on the advice of defense experts concerned about the injuries its remains could cause to people on the ground.

Meanwhile, China downplayed the cancellation of a trip by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken after the balloon sighting soured diplomatic relations. According to Beijing, neither side had formally announced a plan for the visit.

“Actually, the US and China had never announced any visits. The US making such an announcement is its business, and we respect it,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

Blinken was scheduled to visit Beijing on Sunday for talks aimed at easing tensions between the two nations. It would be the first high-profile meeting since the presidents’ meeting in Indonesia in November. But Washington abruptly canceled the plans after discovering the balloon, despite China’s claim that it was a weather research “blimp” that veered off course.

The Pentagon rejected that claim, as well as the claim that it was not used for surveillance duties and had limited navigation capabilities.

The uncensored reactions online reflected the official government position that Washington was exaggerating the situation.

Many users made jokes about the balloon. Some said that since the United States restricted the technology that Beijing can acquire in order to weaken the domestic technology industry, they now could not control the globe.

Others took the opportunity to mock the US defenses as not being able to even deal with a balloon, and nationalist influencers were quick to use the news to mock the rival country. One of them wryly wrote that “the United States delayed Blinken’s visit to China because of the balloon incident.”

The device was sighted over Montana, home to one of the country’s three nuclear missile silos, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, according to defense officials.

While. People with binoculars and telephoto lenses were trying to spot the “spy balloon” in the sky as it headed southeast over Kansas and Missouri at 60,000 feet (18,300 meters).

The Pentagon also acknowledged reports of a second balloon flying over Latin America.

“We now believe this is another Chinese surveillance balloon,” Brigadier General Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a question about the second artifact.

[Con información de The Associated Press]

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Written by Editor TLN

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