July 14, 2024

The US has shot down a giant Chinese balloon that it says has been spying on key military sites across America.

The Department of Defense confirmed its fighter jets brought down the balloon over US territorial waters.

Three airports were shut and airspace was closed off the coast of North and South Carolina as the military carried out the operation on Saturday.

Footage from the AP news agency showed the balloon falling to the sea after a small explosion.

US President Joe Biden has been under pressure to shoot the balloon down since it first appeared in its airspace last week.

According to a statement from the Pentagon, on Wednesday Mr Biden approved the plan to take down the “surveillance balloon as soon as the mission could be accomplished without undue risk to American lives under the balloon’s path”.

Officials had advised him against targeting the object while it was over land due to the danger of falling debris.

Earlier on Saturday, President Biden told reporters he would “take care of it” in answer to a question about what would happen to the high-altitude craft.

The balloon’s arrival over the US comes amid fraying tensions between Washington and Beijing, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling off a trip to Beijing over the matter.

Mr Blinken said the “surveillance” balloon’s presence was “an irresponsible act”. However, China – which says it is a weather ship blown astray – has urged “cool-headed” handling of the dispute.

Earlier, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced it had paused all civilian flights at three airports around the South Carolina coast on Saturday because of a “national security effort”.

The coast guard had also advised mariners to leave the area due to military operations “that present a significant hazard”.

China sought to play down the cancellation of Mr Blinken’s visit over the balloon on Saturday, saying that neither side had formally announced a plan for a trip.

China’s foreign ministry said in a statement that Beijing “would not accept any groundless conjecture or hype” and accused “some politicians and media in the United States” of using the incident “as a pretext to attack and smear China.”

According to US officials, the balloon floated over Alaska and Canada before appearing over the US state of Montana, which is home to a number of sensitive nuclear missile sites.

The incident angered top US officials, with Mr Blinken telling Beijing the balloon’s presence was “a clear violation of US sovereignty and international law” and “an irresponsible act” on the eve of his visit to China.

America’s top diplomat had been set to visit Beijing from 5 to 6 February to hold talks on a wide range of issues, including security, Taiwan and Covid-19. It would have been the first high-level US-China meeting there in years.

But plans faltered after American defence officials announced they were tracking a giant surveillance balloon over the US on Thursday.

On Friday, China finally acknowledged the balloon was its property, saying it was a civilian airship used for meteorological research, which deviated from its route because of bad weather.

And late on Friday, the Pentagon said a second Chinese spy balloon had been spotted – this time over Latin America with reported sightings over Costa Rica and Venezuela.

China has so far made no public comments on the reported second balloon.

Graphic of high altitude balloon, showing helium filled balloon, solar panels and instruments bay which can include cameras, radar and communications equipment. They can fly at heights of 80,000ft-120,000ft, higher than fighter jets and commercial aircraft
Source: bbc.com

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