US denies Beijing’s balloon claims
The US has rejected allegations by the Chinese Foreign Ministry that it has flown surveillance craft in the country’s airspace on at least ten occasions since January of last year. The denial comes amid tensions over so-called ‘Chinese spy balloons’ being identified in US skies.
In its riposte to Beijing issued on Monday, Washington’s National Security Council (NSC) described the claim as “false” and said that it was an example of China attempting to pursue “damage control” after its own efforts to surveil US assets were discovered.
“It is China that has a high-altitude surveillance balloon program for intelligence collection that it has used to violate the sovereignty of the US and over 40 countries across five continents,” NSC spokesperson Adrienne Watson said on Twitter.
The first ‘spy balloon’ caught the attention of the media as it traveled over the continental US in early February. It was subsequently shot down by the US Air Force after drifting off the coast of South Carolina. At least three other objects flying at high altitude have since been downed by the US and Canada.
China admitted ownership of the initial balloon, but insisted that it was a civilian weather device that had been blown off course. Beijing slammed the US response to the incident, describing the decision to shoot the object out of the sky as an “overreaction.”
Speaking at a press briefing on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin branded the US “the biggest spy and surveillance empire” in the world. He added that Washington should “first reflect on itself and change course, rather than smear and instigate a confrontation.”
Watson dismissed Wang’s comments as Beijing “scrambling to do damage control.” China has “repeatedly and wrongly claimed the surveillance balloon it sent over the US was a weather balloon and has failed to offer any credible explanations for its intrusion into our airspace, airspace of others,” she asserted.
The most recent downing of an object by American forces happened on Sunday. The US military said it was traveling at an altitude of 20,000ft and could have impacted the flight paths of commercial air traffic.