The Pentagon Friday evening (local time) said that another Chinese spy balloon was spotted flying over Latin America, a day after US officials said that they tracking a similar surveillance balloon making its way across the United States airspace.
“We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America. We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon,” press secretary Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said in a statement to CNN. While it was unclear on exactly where the balloon was over Latin America – a US official told CNN that it does not appear to be currently heading to the United States.
Meanwhile, in a Twitter video posted by Inside Paper, the video appears to show an explosion over Billings, Montana.
The US Northern Command is coordinating with NASA to determine what the debris field would be if the balloon floating above the United States were to be shot down, according to a defence official.
Officials said they were still tracking the suspected Chinese spy balloon as it travels across the United States. The Pentagon said it does not currently pose a threat and that it is expected to remain over the US for the next couple days.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed his trip to China this weekend in light of the incident, which he called a “clear violation of our sovereignty,” but said lines of communication will remain open to resolve the issue.
President Joe Biden was first briefed on the balloon Tuesday and has been receiving continued updates from the National Security team, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. Top leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees will be briefed next week on the Chinese spy balloon, according to a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
The Pentagon said the balloon over the US is being used for surveillance, rejecting China’s claim that the aircraft is a “civilian airship” for research that deviated from course.
China’s foreign ministry said that the “unmanned airship” entering US airspace was “completely an accident caused by force majeure, and the facts are very clear,” a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry said Saturday.
The foreign ministry spokesperson said maintaining “contact and communication at all levels” was an important consensus of the Bali meeting between the heads of China and the United States, a reference to the three-hour meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in November.
The spokesperson affirmed the Chinese narrative about the suspected spy balloon, saying the unmanned airship strayed into US airspace “due to force majeure.”
China has “checked and provided feedback to the US side,” the spokesperson said.
“The unintended entry of a Chinese unmanned airship into US airspace due to force majeure, the Chinese side has verified it and communicated it to the US side. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes,” China’s foreign ministry spokesperson said in a statement responding to the US announcement of the postponement of Blinken’s visit to China.
“The airship is of civil nature and is used for scientific research such as meteorology. Affected by the westerly wind and its own control ability is limited, the airship seriously deviated from the scheduled route” the spokesperson said.
“We have no intention to violate and has never violated the territory or airspace of any sovereign country. Some politicians and media in the US have hyped it up to attack and smear China. The Chinese side is firmly opposed to that,” China said.
The Pentagon on Friday flatly denied the Chinese government’s claim that the balloon serves a civilian research purpose, saying that the US knows it is a “surveillance balloon.”
The Pentagon also said that it wouldn’t attempt to remove the balloon in the US airspace because “any potential debris field would be significant” and could cause “civilian injuries or deaths or significant property damage.”