War of words over downed Chinese spy balloon continues as US searches for debris | China

The diplomatic row has escalated over the high-flying Chinese balloon which flew over the United States before being shot down, as the first wreckage was recovered off the Atlantic coast.

Beijing on Monday accused the United States of “overreacting” and “indiscriminate use of military force” in shooting down a Chinese balloon, warning of damage to bilateral relations.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned his counterpart Wang Yi on Friday that the United States would take “appropriate measures to protect our interests.”

“It shouldn’t have come as a total surprise” to Beijing when the ball was brought down the following day, Price said.

If it was an American airship over China, “you can only imagine Beijing’s response,” he added.

The Pentagon said the first debris was found on the surface of the ocean off the coast of South Carolina, while work continued to find the pieces that had sunk to the sea floor. called on the public to report any fragments that washed up on shore.

The head of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (Norad), General Glen VanHerck, described the balloon as being 200 feet (61 meters) high, with a surveillance payload the size of a regional passenger plane.

When it was first spotted over the US Aleutian Islands, the general said he decided not to shoot it down.

“I assessed that this balloon posed no physical military threat to North America – that’s under my Norad hat – and therefore I could not take immediate action as it did not demonstrate an act hostile or of hostile intent,” VanHerck told reporters. .

He said the aircraft was able to maneuver to some extent by taking advantage of different wind directions at different altitudes, and that the balloon’s route appeared to have been deliberately planned to navigate these currents.

China claimed the plane was a weather balloon that had been deflected. The country’s Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng filed a formal complaint with the US Embassy on Sunday over the incident, accusing Washington of overreacting to an accident “caused by a case of force majeure,” according to a statement posted on the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website.

“The facts are clear…but the United States turned a deaf ear and insisted on the indiscriminate use of force against the civilian airship that was about to leave American airspace. He obviously overreacted and seriously violated the spirit of international law and international practice,” Xie said.

He accused Washington of “dealing a serious blow” to efforts and progress in stabilizing China-US relations since Joe Biden’s summit with Xi Jinping in November.

“China resolutely opposes and strongly protests, and urges the United States to refrain from taking further actions to harm China’s interests and escalate tensions,” he said.

General VanHerck said an amphibious landing ship, the USS Carter Hall, would serve as the command ship for the search for debris, and a Navy oceanographic vessel was mapping below the surface to search for debris.

Rough seas hampered the search, but he said navy divers in rigid inflatable boats began work Monday morning with the help of unmanned underwater vehicles, and in the afternoon, we will know more about the location of large pieces of submerged debris.

The incident came amid tensions over issues including Taiwan, trade and human rights. It also prompted Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, to postpone a visit to Beijing.

On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said the incident had tested “the sincerity of the United States in stabilizing and improving China-US relations”.

She said: “The United States deliberately exaggerated and exaggerated [the incident] and even used military force to attack. This is unacceptable and irresponsible. »

She also admitted the balloon spotted over Latin America belonged to China but said it was a civilian airship used for flight testing that entered China’s airspace. Latin America and the Caribbean “by accident”.

Yoshihiko Isozaki, Japan’s deputy chief cabinet secretary, said on Monday that a flying object believed to be Chinese and similar to the one shot down by the United States, had been spotted over northern Japan at least twice since 2020. , reported the Associated Press.

China has already objected when foreign military surveillance planes flew over its shores in international airspace. In 2001, a US Navy aircraft carrying out routine surveillance near the Chinese coast collided with a Chinese fighter jet, killing the Chinese fighter pilot and damaging the US plane, which was forced to land emergency at a Chinese naval airbase on the southern island of Hainan. China held the 24 US Navy crew members for 10 days until the United States expressed its regrets.

Professor William Hurst, deputy director of the Center for Geopolitics at the University of Cambridge, said the balloon incident took place in a much more negative climate than the spy plane incident. “The public revelation complicated domestic politics in the United States, which was already tense,” he said. “Its effect will likely be weaker, but will take longer to unwind.”

Xiaoqian Zhu contributed to the research.

theguardian Gt

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