West News Wire: In response to what it described as a civilian balloon straying into American airspace, Washington’s top diplomat’s trip to Beijing was postponed, which was acknowledged by China’s foreign ministry.
The ministry claimed in a statement on Friday that the balloon that the US believed was being used for spying was actually a civilian “airship” that was being utilized for study, mostly for meteorological purposes.
According to the statement, the airship has little ability to steer and “deviated significantly from its scheduled trajectory” due to winds.
The Pentagon had earlier said it was “tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon”. It decided not to shoot down the balloon, which was potentially flying over sensitive sites, because of concerns of hurting people on the ground.
Reporters say that the balloon was first spotted by bystanders in the state of Montana.
“It was spotted by people on the ground who were wondering what was in the sky. That is how the US government first learned about this, incredibly,” she said. “It was then that the US government started tracking it.”
“There are going to have to be some answers as to why it was bystanders who first spotted this and not the military or the US government,” reporters added.
Canada, which has had frosty relations with China in recent years, also summoned the Chinese ambassador on Thursday over the incident, a spokesman for the Canadian foreign ministry told news reporters.
“We will continue to vigorously express our position to Chinese officials through multiple channels,” Global Affairs Canada spokesman Jason Kung said on Friday.
The Canadian defence department said in an earlier statement that a “high-altitude surveillance balloon was detected” and was being tracked by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), a joint US-Canada agency.
Meanwhile, back in the US, Pentagon press secretary Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said similar balloon activity has been seen in the past several years and the government had taken steps to ensure no sensitive information was stolen.
He said the balloon was travelling well above the height commercial aircraft fly at and did not present a threat to people on the ground.
President Biden was briefed and asked the military to present options, according to a senior administration official, who was also not authorised to publicly discuss sensitive information. The senior defence official said the US prepared fighter jets, including F-22s, to shoot down the balloon if ordered.
Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, advised against taking “kinetic action” because of risks to the safety of people on the ground. Biden accepted that recommendation.