In this photo provided by Chad Fish, the remnants of a large balloon drift above the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of South Carolina, with a fighter jet and its contrail seen below it, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. PHOTO BY CHAD FISH VIA AP

China: US shooting down balloon ‘damaged’ relations

BEIJING: A US decision to shoot down a Chinese balloon that Beijing claimed had veered off course has “seriously impacted and damaged” relations between the two countries, China’s foreign ministry said Monday.

The aircraft, which Washington said was a spy balloon, had spent several days flying over North America, leading the United States to call off a planned visit to Beijing by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Washington on Saturday said a fighter jet had shot it down off the coast of South Carolina, because of what it called Beijing’s “unacceptable violation” of American sovereignty.

Beijing protested the move, claiming the balloon was a civilian aircraft that was blown off course, and on Sunday lodged an official complaint with the US embassy in China.

“The United States’ actions have seriously impacted and damaged both sides’ efforts and progress in stabilizing Sino-US relations since the Bali meeting,” vice foreign minister Xie Feng said in the complaint, according to a foreign ministry statement.

He was referring to a summit between presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping in November.

Beijing, the statement added, “is paying close attention to the development of the situation” and “reserves the right to make further necessary reactions.”

Pentagon officials on Friday described the airship as a “high-altitude surveillance balloon.”

A day after Pentagon officials said another balloon had been spotted somewhere over Latin America, air force officials in Colombia said an object with “characteristics similar to those of a balloon” had been detected Friday and “monitored until it left the national air space.”

China confirmed Monday that a balloon identified by Washington and Bogota flying over Latin America is Chinese.

Beijing’s foreign ministry Monday said the object was “from China” and that it was of “a civilian nature and used for flight tests.”

“Affected by weather forces in addition to its maneuverability being limited, the airship deviated greatly from its expected course, and accidentally entered Latin American and Caribbean airspace,” spokesman Mao Ning told a press briefing.

“China is a responsible country and has always strictly abided by international law,” she added.

“We have communicated with the relevant parties and are handling appropriately, and will not cause any threat to any country.”

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