The Biden administration is moving forward with a plan to shoot down a large Chinese balloon suspected of conducting surveillance on the US military, shooting it down once it is over the Atlantic Ocean, where the wreckage could be recovered, according to two US officials.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the operation, said it was unclear whether Biden had already made the final decision. In response to a reporter on Saturday, Biden said, “we’ll take care of this.”
It was sighted on Saturday morning in North Carolina, near the Atlantic coast. In preparation for the operation, the Federal Aviation Administration temporarily closed airspace over the Carolina coast, including the airports in Charleston and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Wilmington, North Carolina, until at least 2:45 p.m. of Saturday. The FAA was diverting air traffic from the area and warned of delays as a result of flight restrictions.
The Coast Guard also advised sailors to immediately leave the area due to US military operations “presenting significant danger.”
Officials were aiming to time the operation so they could recover as much debris as possible before it sinks into the ocean. The Pentagon had previously estimated that the balloon, which was flying at about 60,000 feet in the air, was the size of three school buses and that any debris field would be considerable.
Biden would have been inclined not to shoot it down on the advice of defense experts concerned about the injuries its remains could cause to people on the ground.
Meanwhile, China downplayed the cancellation of a trip by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken after the balloon sighting soured diplomatic relations. According to Beijing, neither side had formally announced a plan for the visit.
“Actually, the US and China had never announced any visits. The US making such an announcement is its business, and we respect it,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
Blinken was scheduled to visit Beijing on Sunday for talks aimed at easing tensions between the two nations. It would be the first high-profile meeting since the presidents’ meeting in Indonesia in November. But Washington abruptly canceled the plans after discovering the balloon, despite China’s claim that it was a weather research “blimp” that veered off course.
The Pentagon rejected that claim, as well as the claim that it was not used for surveillance duties and had limited navigation capabilities.
The uncensored reactions online reflected the official government position that Washington was exaggerating the situation.
Many users made jokes about the balloon. Some said that since the United States restricted the technology that Beijing can acquire in order to weaken the domestic technology industry, they now could not control the globe.
Others took the opportunity to mock the US defenses as not being able to even deal with a balloon, and nationalist influencers were quick to use the news to mock the rival country. One of them wryly wrote that “the United States delayed Blinken’s visit to China because of the balloon incident.”
The device was sighted over Montana, home to one of the country’s three nuclear missile silos, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, according to defense officials.
While. People with binoculars and telephoto lenses were trying to spot the “spy balloon” in the sky as it headed southeast over Kansas and Missouri at 60,000 feet (18,300 meters).
The Pentagon also acknowledged reports of a second balloon flying over Latin America.
“We now believe this is another Chinese surveillance balloon,” Brigadier General Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a question about the second artifact.
Source: VOA Español