White House rejects Republican fire over wait to shoot down Chinese spy balloon | United States national security
US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Sunday dismissed Republican criticism of Joe Biden over the eight-day wait to shoot down an alleged Chinese spy balloon that flew over military sites.
“The president has given instructions that it be put down in a safe manner,” Buttigieg told CNN’s State of the Union, of the operation off the coast of Carolina on Saturday.
“The debris field that was created by this balloon that was shot down is about seven miles long. And so anytime the military is considering an option, they have to consider the safety of the American people.
But Florida’s Marco Rubio, the Republican vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, remained unmoved, telling the same network, “Why didn’t they act? Right now it’s number one. The other thing we need to know is why did it take so long for them to leak this to the American public? »
The incident prompted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel a trip to Beijing.
China has insisted the flyby was an accident involving a derailed civilian weather research ‘airship’. The Pentagon dismissed that, as well as China’s claim, the balloon had limited navigation capability.
China said it reserved the right to “take further action”, criticizing the United States for “an obvious overreaction and a serious violation of international practice”. On Saturday, Beijing said the head of its meteorological service had been removed from his post.
US officials said the balloon entered the US air defense zone north of the Aleutian Islands on January 28 and crossed Alaska and entered Canadian airspace. He drove through Idaho on Tuesday, the day the White House said Biden was briefed.
The balloon was spotted over Montana on Wednesday, home to Malmstrom Air Force Base, which has nuclear missile silo fields. Two senior defense officials who briefed reporters said the U.S. military had concluded the balloon was not giving the Chinese any meaningful intelligence beyond what they could already get from satellites, although the U.S. States have taken steps to mitigate what they might collect.
Biden wanted the ball down on Wednesday, but was advised to wait until it was above water, officials said, after it was determined that bringing it down to earth from 60,000 feet would pose an undue risk.
The balloon was spotted over the Carolinas on Saturday. The Federal Aviation Administration closed airspace, redirected air traffic and warned of delays. Buttigieg said the FAA “worked closely with the Pentagon…and the operation was put together without pain, damage, or injury to Americans, lives, or property.”
At around 2:39 p.m. ET, an F-22 fighter jet fired a missile about six nautical miles off Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, officials said. Television footage showed a small explosion, followed by the deflated balloon descending like a ribbon.
Debris landed in 47 feet of water. Officials said a recovery operation involving multiple vessels would be completed quickly.
“They successfully removed it and I want to commend our Airmen who did it,” Biden said.
But the Republicans were critical. On Sunday, Rubio said: “I think it’s no coincidence that this happens before the State of the Union address. [on Tuesday], leading up to Blinken’s visit to China. The Chinese knew it was going to be spotted. They knew we were going to have to react. They flew it over military installations and sensitive sites, right in the middle [of the country].
“The message embedded in that to the world is, ‘We can fly a balloon over the airspace of the United States of America and they can’t do anything about it. “”
Officials have said Chinese spy balloons have entered US airspace at least three times under the Trump administration and at least once under Biden, if not for so long.
Rubio said China wanted to tell other nations that “America can’t do anything about…a balloon flying over American airspace, because America won’t come to your aid when we invade Taiwan or take land from India or take islands from the Philippines and Japan.
Other Republicans also criticized the White House’s response and hinted at a House investigation.
“I will demand answers and hold the administrator accountable for this embarrassing display of weakness,” said Texas Representative Michael McCaul, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
New York Rep. Mike Lawler said Biden, Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “must cooperate with Congress and provide immediate responses,” Axios reported.
Mark Green of Tennessee, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said the panel “will continue to demand both action and response from this administration.”
Another representative from Tennessee, Joe Wilson, went further, in writing that the “catastrophic Chinese spy balloon spectacle…confirms President Biden and Vice President [Kamala] Harris should resign.
The Pentagon has acknowledged reports of a second balloon over Latin America. US officials said the balloon was part of a fleet and could be maneuvered remotely, carrying equipment not usually associated with weather or civilian research.
China’s Foreign Ministry sought to downplay the cancellation of Blinken’s trip, saying: “In reality, the United States and China have never announced a visit, the United States making such an announcement is its own business, and we respect that.”
Blinken said he told a senior Chinese diplomat that kicking the ball was “an irresponsible act and that [China’s] decision to take this step on the eve of my visit is detrimental to the substantive discussions we were prepared to have”.
Mike Mullen, a retired admiral and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, welcomed Blinken’s decision but said the balloon incident had hurt attempts to strengthen US-China relations.
“There is no way [Blinken] could have a meaningful visit and we have a host of issues that we need to address,” Mullen told ABC’s This Week. “It goes a long way to moving this forward in a constructive way, which is something we really need to do.”