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New images show suspected Chinese spy balloons over Japan and Taiwan - report

One of these balloons crossed northern Japan in early September in 2021, news report shows

Arpan Rai
Tuesday 27 June 2023 11:20 BST
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File: The first spy balloon to spark public awareness of such modern objects was found over the United States
File: The first spy balloon to spark public awareness of such modern objects was found over the United States (AP/ Image for representation purpose)

Multiple images of what appeared to be spy balloons crossing Japan and Taiwan in east Asia since 2021 have been found, months after China’s suspected spy balloon programme came to light.

Rare satellite images captured by artificial intelligence company Synthetaic and shared with the BBC showed several images of balloons crossing two of China’s neighbouring nations.

One of these balloons crossed northern Japan in early September in 2021, reported BBC.

Evidence of the launch points for these balloons are likely to have been from deep inside China, south of Mongolia, Sythetaic’s founder Corey Jaskolski said.

Other photographs taken by Taiwan’s weather service also showed a purported balloon over capital Taipei around late September in 2021, the BBC Panorama team found. The photos were captured across the region to record sightings of UFOs in the sky.

On cross-referencing the findings from the weather department with the satellite imagery, Mr Jaskolski said his team found the balloon off the coast of Taiwan within 90 seconds.

The report added that officials in Japan have confirmed that balloons have flown over its territory adding that they are prepared to shoot them down in future, akin to the route taken by the US after purported spy balloons were spotted in its skies in February this year.

Washington has stationed more American forces in Japan than on any other foreign soil as the Asian nation remains its close ally.

Pointing out that the Chinese balloons have been designed specially for “long-range missions” and some have reportedly “circumnavigated the globe”, former east Asia analyst for the CIA John Culver said that this is a continuing effort dating back at least five years, the report added.

In this image released by the Department of Defense on 22 Feb 2023, a US Air Force U-2 pilot looks down at a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon as it hovers over the United States on 3 Feb 2023. (Department of Defense via AP) (Public Domain)
In this file photo taken on 1 Feb 2023 and released on 2 February shows a suspected Chinese spy balloon in the sky over Billings, Montana (CHASE DOAK/AFP via Getty Images)

This was also claimed by the Pentagon earlier this year when the US authorities shot down a Chinese balloon off the South Carolina coast, stating that the operation was part of a large surveillance programme that China has been conducting for “several years”.

Pentagon press secretary brigadier general Pat Ryder said that the balloons flew over “sites that would be of interest to the Chinese”.

China denied the allegations of spying by the US and claimed it was a civilian balloon used for meteorological research that strayed off course. The Xi Jinping administration also sharply criticised the US for shooting it down.

The incident has left a stain on US-China ties, forcing both sides to assess diplomatic methods to revive the relations while handling the bilateral tensions alongside.

Rejecting China’s explanation, Brig Gen Ryder said, “I can assure you this was not for civilian purposes... we are 100 per cent clear about that”.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken had said that the Joe Biden administration has briefed dozens of countries on the programme, which officials said has been active over five continents.

“The United States was not the only target,” he said at a news conference with visiting Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg in February. China has not yet reacted to the BBC report.

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