US military searches territorial waters for Chinese spy balloon wreckage | China
The US military has said it is searching for the remains of the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon it shot down, in a dramatic spy saga that has further strained US-China relations.
The U.S. Navy is working to recover the balloon and its payload and the Coast Guard is providing security for the operation, Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and Northern American Command, said Sunday. .
A successful recovery could give the United States a glimpse of China’s spy capabilities, although US officials have played down the ball’s impact on national security.
A senior defense official told reporters the nature of the debris was still being assessed, but recovery options, including Navy divers at the scene, “would seek to recover all debris and material of intelligence value,” according to a transcript released by the United States. Department of Defense.
“The debris is mostly in 47 feet of water. The cover that’s going to make it pretty easy, actually. We had anticipated much deeper water,” the official said, adding that the wreckage “would have fallen to at least a seven-mile radius.”
A US Air Force fighter jet shot down the balloon off South Carolina on Saturday, a week after it entered US airspace near Alaska. VanHerck said the incident happened over US territorial waters.
China protested the response as an “obvious overreaction”, but analysts said any countermeasures from Beijing are likely to be finely calibrated to avoid a deterioration in ties.
On Monday, China urged the United States not to escalate tensions or harm China’s interests.
“China firmly opposes it and strongly protests against it,” Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng said in a speech outside the US Embassy in China on Monday. “The Chinese government is closely monitoring the development of the situation.”
On Sunday, Republican lawmakers slammed President Joe Biden for waiting days to shoot down the balloon as it hovered over the United States, accusing him of showing weakness to China and initially trying to keep the violation of US airspace secret.
“I think part of that is the president’s reluctance to take any action that would be considered provocative or confrontational toward Chinese Communists,” said Republican Tom Cotton, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Former President Donald Trump and his former director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, have denied Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s assessment that similar balloons transited the United States during his presidency.
“China had too much respect for ‘TRUMP’ for this to happen, and it NEVER happened,” Trump wrote on social media site Truth Social.
But Republican Representative Michael Waltz backed Austin, telling the Washington Post that the Pentagon informed Congress that Chinese balloons had been spotted near the United States several times during Trump’s tenure.
He said balloons have been spotted near Texas and twice near Florida, as well as previously known sightings near Hawaii and Guam.
Democrats said Biden’s decision to wait to shoot down the balloon until it passed over the United States protected civilians from debris crashing into Earth.
“The president has asked that this be handled in a way that balances all the different risks. That’s exactly what happened,” US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told CNN’s State of the Union.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer called the Republican criticism “premature and political.”
“The bottom line here is that shooting the balloon over water was not only the safest option, but it was the one that maximized our information gain,” he said. during a press conference.
The Pentagon will brief senators on the balloon and Chinese surveillance on Feb. 15, Schumer said.
Republican Mike Turner, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he believed China was using the ball to figure out how to counter US nuclear weapons and missile defense systems.
“The president allowed this to go through our most sensitive sites and wasn’t even going to tell the American public,” Turner said on NBC’s Meet the Press.
Republican Marco Rubio, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told ABC News This Week that China was trying to send a message that it could break into US airspace. Rubio said he doubted the balloon debris had much intelligence value.