Bloomberg confirmed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken would postpone his trip to Beijing amid spy balloon allegations.
The two-day trip was set to begin on Sunday. Even before Blinken postponed his trip, expectations were low to reset deteriorating Sino-US ties.
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In response to some US officials accusing China of sending a spy balloon near ICBM fields in Montana, the Chinese foreign ministry said the balloon was for monitoring the 'weather' and veered off course and entered into US airspace due to force majeure.
The ministry "regrets the unintended entry" and said Chinese officials would continue communicating with the US about the balloon. They added the balloon is for meteorological and 'other scientific research.'
Earlier, foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning urged the US to act "calmly and prudently" after some US officials accused China of sending a spy balloon.
"I want to emphasize that before the facts are clear, any speculation and hype are not conducive to the solution of the problem," Ning said.
So China states the balloon is for weather purposes only, while some US officials declare it a spy balloon. One thing is certain. The balloon mysteriously ended up near a highly sensitive area in Montana that is home to ICBM fields.
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US military commanders have advised President Biden against shooting down a Chinese spy balloon flying over the US.
Reuters said the US military took "custody" of the "high-altitude surveillance balloon" and deployed military aircraft, including stealth fighter jets, to observe it.
Such balloons operate at an altitude of 15-22 miles, well above commercial air traffic. The balloon's size is estimated to be equivalent to three buses.
🚨#BREAKING: More video of the Chinese spy balloon⁰— R A W S A L E R T S (@rawsalerts) February 2, 2023
📌#Montana | #USA
More video is coming out as
The Chinese high altitude surveillance balloon was seen over Billings Montana yesterday.
The size of balloon is three buses wide and has been flying over the Northern U.S. for days pic.twitter.com/4iUVvJQCG8
A photo of the Chinese spy balloon currently over Montana. The Pentagon's been tracking the balloon, about the size of three buses, for a few days, but decided against shooting the balloon down, on account of it not posing a military or civilian threat. pic.twitter.com/xLRovjKxbI— Domenico (@AvatarDomy) February 3, 2023
#BREAKING: A massive spy balloon from China has been surveilling the United States. It is described as the size of three buses and includes a technology— International Leaks (@Internl_Leaks) February 2, 2023
bay - US Media #BreakingNews #usa #Internationalleaks #China pic.twitter.com/x10a1xkdkh
"The United States government has detected and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now," Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Patrick Ryder told reporters Thursday.
"The balloon is currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground," Ryder continued.
Right now, the spy balloon appears to be occupying Montana airspace. This alarmed the state's Republican Senator Steve Daines, who sent an alarming letter to the Department of Defense (DOD). He said the spy balloon is a "concerning event": because Montana airspace includes "Malmstrom Air Force Base (AFB) and the United State's intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) fields."
Looks like three #USAF RC-135s were observing the "Chinese Spy Balloon" over Montana today. These planes are known to track objects the size of a soccer ball from a distance of 300 miles. #ChineseSpyBalloon pic.twitter.com/IGlPetCmUN— Wilson (@WilsonsWorld) February 3, 2023
Daines wrote that given "the serious nature of the event," he is "requesting a full security briefing from the administration on this situation."
"It is vital to establish the flight path of this balloon, any compromised US national security assets, and all telecom or IT infrastructure on the ground within the US that this spy balloon was utilizing," he continued.
"As you know, Montana plays a vital national security role by housing nuclear missile silos at Malmstrom AFB," the senator said.
Separately, Canada's defense ministry is monitoring a "potential second incident" but declined to give further details.
News of the spy balloon followed CIA Director William Burns' speech at a Georgetown University event, where he called China the "biggest geopolitical challenge" facing the West.