U.S. recovers balloon debris while China protests

8 February, 2023 | Vaishali Sharma

balloon debris World

The Chinese surveillance balloon that was shot down on Sunday, igniting a diplomatic spat between Washington and Beijing, is now being collected by US authorities.

The Chinese surveillance balloon that was shot down on Sunday, igniting a diplomatic spat between Washington and Beijing, is now being collected by US authorities.

The shooting down of the balloon was criticised by the Chinese government again on Tuesday, calling it a “overreaction.” Downing the balloon, according to the Biden administration, is legal under international law.

“The answer is unequivocally ‘No’,” White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on a Monday briefing call.

“The airship does not belong to the U.S., it belongs to China,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said, when asked if Beijing had requested the U.S. to return the debris.

However, the U.S. has no plans to return the debris to Beijing. “I know no such intention or plans to return it,” said Mr Kirby.

“The unmanned Chinese airship is of civilian nature,” Ms. Mao said. “Its unintended entry into U.S. airspace is entirely unexpected and caused by force majeure. It didn’t pose any threat to any person or to the national security of the US. The U.S. should have properly handled such incidents in a calm and professional manner not involving the use of force, yet they decided to do otherwise, which is a clear overreaction.”

American officials reported that the military had started gathering and analysing the balloon’s remains. There had been a “domain awareness gap,” according to Air Force General Glen D. Van Herck of the U.S. Northern Command, and Chinese balloons had previously flown over American airspace.

“So those balloons, so every day as a NORAD commander it’s my responsibility to detect threats to North America,” he told reporters. “I will tell you that we did not detect those threats. And that’s a domain awareness gap that we have to figure out…The intel community, after the fact, I believe has….made us aware of those balloons that were previously approaching North America or transited North America.”

Meanwhile, according to The New York Times, quoting the Pentagon, China has rejected Washington’s request for a phone conference between US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Beijing counterpart Wei Fenghe. Soon after a US fighter jet shot down a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday, the request was made.

According to a statement sent through email from the Pentagon Press Secretary, Brigadier General Patrick S Ryder, Washington recognises the value of keeping lines of communication open with China. He said that the US had asked China to “reject” setting up a call between Lloyd Austin and Wei Fenghe.

 “We believe in the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between the United States and the P.R.C. in order to responsibly manage the relationship,” The New York Times quoted General Patrick Ryder as saying in an emailed statement, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

“Lines between our militaries are particularly important in moments like this,” he added.
As per the news report, General Ryder said, “Unfortunately, the P.R.C. has declined our request” to arrange a call with Wei Fenghe. He stated that the Pentagon will keep trying, according to The New York Times report.