US shoots down Chinese ‘spy balloon’
The US has shot down what it termed a “Chinese surveillance balloon” off the coast of South Carolina. After the object traversed the country unimpeded for several days, President Joe Biden said earlier on Saturday that he would “take care of it.”
Footage shared on social media showed fighter jets circling the balloon over Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. Once it was over the Atlantic Ocean, the balloon was hit by a missile strike which sent it plummeting into the water.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed the downing of the object shortly afterwards, saying that the military had waited until the craft was over open water to minimize the threat to civilians on the ground.
Prior to the operation, the Federal Aviation Administration closed airspace over parts of North and South Carolina, in anticipation of the military effort to bring it down.
The mysterious craft was first seen over the western state of Montana on Wednesday, before it traversed the Midwest en route to the Atlantic. Pentagon officials reportedly advised Biden against shooting the balloon down, leaving it free to travel for nearly three days.
Amid growing media interest in the balloon, Biden told reporters on Saturday morning that “we’re going to take care of it,” later saying that he advocated shooting it down since Wednesday, but was urged not to by the Pentagon, in line with Austin’s concerns for civilian safety.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that Biden was first briefed on the balloon on Tuesday. However, she did not explain why the president had waited until it was spotted by members of the public a day later to acknowledge its presence.
Beijing has denied accusations of espionage, with the Chinese Foreign Ministry describing the balloon as a “civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes” which “deviated from its intended course.” Austin said that it was being used to surveil “strategic sites in the continental United States.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a planned trip to Beijing in response to the incident, with the State Department calling it “a clear violation of US sovereignty.” China countered that no such visit had been agreed on in the first place.