Blinken hits out at China over spy balloon row
In reference to the suspected Chinese spy balloon which was shot down over the Atlantic Ocean on February 4, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Washington “was not the only target of this broader program which violated the sovereignty of countries across five continents”.
Blinken made the remarks while addressing a joint press briefing here on Wednesday with visiting NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
“Last week, Beijing violated international law and US sovereignty with the presence of a Chinese surveillance balloon in US airspace. This was an irresponsible act, in response to which we acted responsibly and prudently to protect our interests,” Blinken was quoted as saying in a release issued by the State Department.
He also confirmed that there was ongoing operation to recover the balloon’s components.
“We’re analyzing them to learn more about the surveillance program. We will pair that with what we learn from the balloon — what we learn from the balloon itself with what we’ve gleaned based on our careful observation of the system when it was in our airspace, as the President directed his team to do.”
The Secretary of State further said the relevant findings will be shared with Congress “as well as with our allies and partners around the world”.
“We’ve already shared information with dozens of countries around the world both from Washington and through our embassies,” he added.
The suspected spy balloon, which US defence officials first announced of tracking the on February 2, was shot down two days later by an American F-22 fighter jet.
The officials waited until the “strange object” was safely over water before shooting it down.
The balloon was retrieved off the coast of Myrtle Beach in South Carolina on February 5
According to the US Navy, the balloon’s debris was spread over 11 km of the Atlantic Ocean, and two naval ships were sent to the area.
The debris have been sent to an FBI laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, for analysis to see whether it was indeed spy equipment.
Blinken remarks came after The Washington Post reported that the US believes the suspected surveillance balloon project was being operated from China’s coastal Hainan province and targeted countries including Japan, India, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines.
At a Wednesday news conference, Defence Department spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder confirmed that the US believed similar balloons had operated over North and South America, South East Asia, East Asia and Europe.
Meanwhile, China on Monday admitted ownership of the balloon, saying it was used for flight tests and had “seriously deviated” from its flight course “by mistake”.
On February 3, the Pentagon had said a second Chinese spy balloon had been spotted — this time over Latin America with reported sightings over Costa Rica and Venezuela.
Colombia’s Air Force says an identified object — believed to be a balloon — was detected in the country’s airspace at above 55,000 ft.
It says it followed the object until it left the airspace, adding that it did not represent a threat to national security.
The discovery of the balloon set off a diplomatic crisis, with Blinken immediately calling off a scheduled trip to China — which would be the first such high level US-China meeting there in years.
[With Inputs from IANS]
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