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China says at least 10 U.S. balloons have flown in its airspace since 2022

China’s Foreign Ministry, on Feb. 13, said the United States has sent at least 10 unsanctioned balloons into Chinese airspace since last year. (Video: Reuters)
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China’s Foreign Ministry on Monday said the United States has sent at least 10 unsanctioned balloons into Chinese airspace since last year, as the two countries feud over a Chinese airship discovered and shot down by the U.S. military this month. The United States denied the allegation.

Hitting back at allegations that Beijing had used the balloon, discovered floating over the western United States, for surveillance, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said in a press briefing that it was “common” for U.S. high-altitude balloons to fly into other countries’ airspace.

“The United States should first reflect on itself and change course, rather than slander, discredit or incite confrontation,” Wang said.

The U.S. shot 4 objects out of the sky in nine days. What to know.

The comments come after a U.S. fighter jet shot down another unknown object flying off the coast of Alaska on Friday. U.S. and Canadian officials then said a U.S. fighter jet shot down an unidentified object in Canadian airspace on Saturday. A fourth object was shot down over Lake Huron on Sunday afternoon.

When asked whether any of the other objects downed by the U.S. military had come from China, Wang declined to answer, noting only that “irresponsible remarks should not be made without clear evidence.”

The United States denied Wang’s assertion a few hours later in a White House statement describing “any claim that the US government operates surveillance balloons” over China as false.

“This is the latest example of China scrambling to do damage control. It has repeatedly and wrongly claimed the surveillance balloon it sent over the United States was a weather balloon and to this day has failed to offer any credible explanations for its intrusion into our airspace and the airspace of others,” said spokeswoman Adrienne Watson.

Beijing has repeatedly said that the balloon discovered over the United States in late January was a civilian Chinese airship for scientific research gone astray. Wang’s remarks on Monday underline Beijing’s hardening tone to an incident that has derailed months of efforts to repair worsening U.S.-China ties.

After the initial discovery of the balloon in late January, Beijing admitted the airship was Chinese and expressed “regret” that it had blown off-course. When Washington canceled a visit to Beijing by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in response to the balloon, Beijing restricted blame to “some politicians and media” in the United States for “hyping” the incident.

Beijing’s tone has since become more defensive. After a U.S. F-22 Raptor downed the airship, China claimed it was the United States that had broken with international norms by “using force.” On Monday, Wang accused the United States of being the world’s largest “surveillance empire.”

The Shanghai-based outlet The Paper reported Sunday that an unidentified object was seen flying over Qingdao and that authorities were preparing to shoot it down.

Pei-Lin Wu contributed to this report.

More on the flying objects shot down over U.S., Canada

The latest: U.S. fighter jets have shot four objects out of the sky over North America this month. The first object, a balloon shot down off the South Carolina coast, was Chinese. Biden said Thursday the three other objects did not so far appear to have connections to foreign surveillance programs.

The first balloon: The first object was linked by the U.S. intelligence community to a vast surveillance program run by the People’s Liberation Army. Here’s a timeline of the balloon’s journey across the United States and photos of the recovery.

The response from China: China’s Foreign Ministry said the U.S. has sent at least 10 unsanctioned balloons into Chinese airspace since last year. China accused the United States of an “overreaction” and reiterated claims that the airship was a civilian vessel that drifted off course.

Why use a spy balloon? Spy balloons “offer a few advantages over the use of satellites or drones,” James Rogers, an academic at Cornell, tells us. The Defense Department told Congress that similar surveillance balloons had been spotted in U.S. airspace before, and a top U.S. general said past incursions by Chinese balloons went undetected by the Pentagon.