China’s foreign ministry said Friday that a balloon suspected by the U.S. of being used for covert surveillance is actually a “civilian airship” that was pushed off course.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs put out a statement expressing regret after the Pentagon announced Thursday that it was tracking a suspected Chinese spy balloon.
“The airship is from China. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement. “Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course.”
“The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to” unforeseen forces outside of its control, the statement continued. “The Chinese side will continue communicating with the US side and properly handle this unexpected situation caused by force majeure.”
The incident has altered the plans of Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was scheduled to meet with Chinese officials in Beijing on Sunday and Monday. Because of the aircraft, Blinken’s trip has been postponed indefinitely, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Earlier on Friday, Canada’s national defense said that it was monitoring a “potential second incident” involving a suspected Chinese aircraft. China’s foreign ministry has not addressed that claim.
“A high-altitude surveillance balloon was detected and its movements are being actively tracked by [North American Aerospace Defense Command] NORAD,” Canada’s national defense said in a statement, according to the U.K.’s Independent.
“Canadians are safe and Canada is taking steps to ensure the security of its airspace, including the monitoring of a potential second incident,” the statement said.
Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Pat Ryder said Thursday that the U.S. Defense Department is tracking a suspected Chinese spy balloon over U.S. airspace. The balloon was first spotted over Montana.
“We continue to track and monitor it closely,” Ryder said. “Once the balloon was detected the U.S. government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information.”
He added that the balloon was “traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.”
The incident has raised national security concerns among lawmakers on Capitol Hill. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) called the incident a “brazen disregard for U.S. sovereignty” and called on President Joe Biden to act.
“China’s brazen disregard for U.S. sovereignty is a destabilizing action that must be addressed, and President Biden cannot be silent. I am requesting a Gang of Eight briefing,” McCarthy tweeted Thursday evening.
The Gang of Eight, a group of Republican and Democrat Congressional leaders briefed on classified national security matters, was reportedly briefed on the suspected spy balloon late on Thursday afternoon.
The Pentagon has so far elected not to shoot down the balloon, despite having a “very high confidence” that the aircraft is being used by Beijing to collect surveillance data, according to the Associated Press. Defense officials fear that bringing the balloon down poses too great a risk for collateral damage on the ground.