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13 Feb, 2023 12:31

China shoots back at US spy balloon claims

Washington’s own high-altitude balloons have entered Chinese airspace without permission multiple times, Beijing has alleged
China shoots back at US spy balloon claims

US high-altitude balloons have violated Chinese airspace more than 10 times since January 2022 alone, a Chinese diplomat has claimed. Washington recently accused Beijing of spying on nations on five continents with its aircraft.

Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, made the allegations against the US during a daily briefing on Monday. He was asked by Western journalists about Washington’s accusation that China flew “spy balloons” over other nations, including the US.

A Chinese balloon shot down by the US Air Force earlier this month, had strayed off course due to force majeure, Wang stated. The spokesman described the use of force by the US as an “overreaction,” before accusing the US of abusing advanced technologies in its possession to conduct indiscriminate surveillance and espionage operations around the world, including against its own allies.

Wang recalled Obama-era revelations about the NSA’s mass electronic surveillance program and the tapping of phones used by leaders of European nations, such as Germany, to argue the US should be considered the world’s “biggest spy and surveillance empire.”

US National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson called the allegation “false” and reiterated Washington’s accusation that Beijing ran a system of global surveillance using high-altitude balloons.

The original “spy balloon” traversed the US for around eight days in early February, becoming a major news story, with political opponents of President Joe Biden accusing his administration of indecisiveness over its initial failure to take down the unmanned aircraft. Since then, the US and Canada have shot down at least three objects flying at high altitude, including the first one, which Beijing recognized as its own.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken claimed during a press conference last Wednesday that China had “violated the sovereignty of countries across five continents.” An anonymous official in his department told the media that over 40 countries were affected.

The issue led to a heated exchange during the daily briefing at Foggy Bottom last Thursday, when spokesman Ned Price declined to explain what evidence the allegation was based on.

AP correspondent Matt Lee remarked that that lack of transparency made it look like “you guys are conducting exactly the same kind of surveillance over these countries that you’re accusing the Chinese of doing over yours.” Price rejected the assertion and replied that the US government could not “reveal sources and methods” or “weaken our defenses against a program like this” by doing so.

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