US denies flying spy balloons over China airspace as Beijing looks to shoot down ‘object’ by naval base

White House national security spokesman John Kirby swiftly shut down China’s latest claims

Maroosha Muzaffar
Monday 13 February 2023 12:47 GMT
Related video: Montana Democrat calls balloon incidents ‘nothing short of craziness’

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The United States has denied China’s accusations that it has flown spy balloons in Chinese airspace.

The Chinese foreign ministry on Monday alleged that the US has been using surveillance balloons on other countries “illegally”, and that 10 such objects have been detected crossing Chinese airspace in the past year alone.

It comes after the US military downed a Chinese-made airship off the coast of South Carolina, and alleged that Beijing had for years been carrying out a wide-scale surveillance programme using high-altitude balloons.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby swiftly shut down China’s latest claims.

“Not true. Not doing it. Just absolutely not true,” Mr Kirby said in an interview with MSNBC. “We are not flying balloons over China.”

Mr Kirby’s denial followed reports that Beijing is preparing to shoot down an unidentified “object” flying above waters near a major naval base in Qingdao.

The “relevant authorities” in China are preparing to shoot down an “object” near one of its naval bases, a worker at the marine development authority in Qingdoa’s Jimo district told local news outlet The Paper, according to Bloomberg.

The anonymous worker was not told what the “object” was.

The Jianggezhuang Naval Base in Qingdao is known for hosting both ballistic and nuclear attack submarines as well as China’s first aircraft carrier. It also houses the command headquarters of the country’s North Sea Fleet.

The Qingdao Marine Development Bureau sent a message to fishing boats that the “object” was detected over waters near Rizhao, said The Paper’s report.

The fishing boats were ordered to be on alert and “avoid risks” such as falling debris. The report did not say when the object was sighted or when it will be shot down.

“If debris falls around your boat, please help take pictures as evidence. If conditions allow, please help salvage it,” the message said.

The bureau told The Paper that it had issued a security alert to nearby fishing boats.

The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin was asked about the firm which owned the the Chinese balloon that was shot down over the US at a regular media conference on Monday.

In response, Wang said it was “common for US balloons to illegally enter other countries’ airspace”.

“Since last year alone, American high-altitude balloons have illegally crossed China’s airspace more than 10 times without the approval of relevant Chinese authorities,” Wang said.

Wang did not specify why such incidents are only being publicised now, or how China responded at the time they were detected. But it comes amid a row between the world’s two superpowers over the alleged widespread use of surveillance balloons, which fly at up to twice the cruising altitude of ordinary passenger aircraft.

On Sunday, the US military said it had shot down a third unidentified “object” in as many days, this time over Lake Huron in Michigan.

Defence officials said they are still trying to establish the nature of the “object” and, when asked about unidentified flying objects (UFOs), said they were not ruling anything out.

We’re calling them objects, not balloons, for a reason,” said General Glen VanHerck, head of North American Aerospace Defense Command (Norad) and Northern Command as he refused to rule out any explanation.

“I’ll let the intel community and the counterintelligence community figure that out,” he said.

Since late January, at least four aircraft, including a suspected Chinese spy balloon, have been shot down after entering US and Canadian airspace.

Beijing denied the first craft was a surveillance balloon, saying it was a civilian airship used to monitor the weather and had entered the US airspace by accident.

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