A second Chinese spy balloon has been spotted, this time in the skies over Latin America, the Pentagon has said, a day after another one of the sizes of three buses and carrying a ''large'' payload was seen in US skies that prompted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone his planned visit to China, news agency PTI reported.
"We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America. We now assess it as another Chinese surveillance balloon. We have no further information to provide at this time," Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said on Friday.
It is unclear exactly which country in the region the balloon is hovering over but it does not appear as if it is headed toward the United States, according to CNN. The detection of the Chinese surveillance balloon transiting Latin America comes a day after the Pentagon announced that a Chinese surveillance balloon within its territory was flying over Montana, leading to Blinken postponing his planned trip to Beijing.
Montana, a sparsely populated state, is home to one of only three nuclear missile silo fields in the US, at Malmstrom Air Force Base. Blinken was scheduled to leave for China on Friday night. This would have been the first visit of a top American diplomat to China in several years, the PTI report stated.
Blinken on Friday said the first task at their disposal is to ensure that the Chinese surveillance balloon which is hovering over its sky is out of its territory, as he defended his decision to postpone his planned trip to Beijing.
"Job one is getting it out of our airspace. We continue to believe that having open lines of communication is important,'' he said.
''Indeed, this incident only underscores the importance, and that's why we will maintain them. That's why, when conditions permit, I plan to go to China. But the most important thing right now is to see that this surveillance asset gets out of our airspace, and we'll take it from there," Blinken said.
At the joint news conference with the visiting South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin, Blinken said it was very important to emphasise that the presence of this surveillance balloon over the United States skies was a clear violation of its sovereignty and international law, and clearly unacceptable.
"We have made that clear to China. Any country that has its airspace violated in this way I think would respond similarly. And I can only imagine what the reaction would be in China if they were on the other end," he said.
"What this has done is created the conditions that undermine the purpose of the trip, including ongoing efforts to build a floor under the relationship and to address a broad range of issues that are of concern to the American people, I believe to the Chinese people, and certainly as well to people around the world," Blinken said.
China's decision to fly a surveillance balloon over the continental United States is both ''unacceptable and irresponsible'', he added.
''That's what this is about. It's a violation of our sovereignty, it's a violation of international law. And it was very important that we of course take the actions we did to protect any sensitive information, to protect our people, and to make clear to China that again this is an unacceptable as well as irresponsible action," he said in response to a question from the press.
Blinken said that he had planned to visit Beijing to follow up on the agenda agreed to by President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping in November in Bali, Indonesia.
''In our judgment, it created conditions that undermined the very purpose of the trip, including ongoing efforts, as I said, to build a floor under the relationship as well as to address a very broad range of issues that are important to Americans, to Chinese, to the entire world," he said.
Blinken said the world expects the United States and China to manage their relationship responsibly. "And indeed, addressing many of today's global challenges, challenges that affect the lives of our people and people around the world, demands that we find a way to work together as well. The United States will continue to act in a way that reflects that responsibility," he said.
"We look to our PRC (People's Republic of China) counterparts to do the same," he said.
Blinken reiterated that the US is confident this is a Chinese surveillance balloon, rejecting China's claim that the aircraft is a ''civilian airship'' for research that deviated from course. ''The airship is from China. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological purposes,'' a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in a statement on Friday.
''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 force majeure,'' the statement said.
Blinken said once the US detected the balloon, the government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information. ''We communicated with the PRC government directly through multiple channels about this issue," he said.
"Members of my team consulted with our partners in other agencies and in Congress. We also engaged our close allies and partners to inform them of the presence of the surveillance balloon in our airspace. We concluded that conditions were not conducive for a constructive visit at this time," he said.
Earlier, the Pentagon said the Chinese balloon will probably be over the United States for a few days. President Biden has been briefed about the violation of US airspace by China and he is closely monitoring the developing situation, the White House said, adding that as of now they have decided against destroying it because of the safety of the public, but all actions are on the table.
"We will continue to monitor it. Right now, we assess that it'll probably be over the United States for a few days, but we'll continue to review our options and keep you updated as we can," Pentagon Press Secretary Brig Gen Ryder told reporters at the Department of Defence.
"It's got a large payload underneath the surveillance component, underneath the actual balloon piece of it," Ryder said, adding that the surveillance balloon has maneuverability capabilities. Right now, at this point, it's moving eastward across the United States, currently over about the central United States, he said.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that the US has noted the Chinese statement of regret. "But the presence of this balloon in our airspace, it is a clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law, and it is unacceptable that this occurred," she said.
Both the White House and the Pentagon said that it does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground. "President Biden was briefed. He has asked the military to present options. It was the strong recommendation by (Defence) Secretary (Lloyd) Austin, Chairman Milley, the commander of Northern Command not to take kinetic action because of the risk to safety and security of the people on the ground," Jean-Pierre said.
"We do know that it is a surveillance balloon. In terms of the size, I'm not able to get into the specifics other than to say that it is big enough that, again, in reviewing our approach we do recognise that any potential debris field would be significant and potentially cause civilian injuries or deaths or significant property damage," Pentagon spokesman Ryder said.
"This is part of the calculus in terms of our overall assessment, but again, we'll continue to monitor it. We'll continue to review our options and keep you updated as able," he said.
Image courtesy: Chase Doak/Reuters
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