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Thursday 23 March 2023 Dublin: 10°C
Larry Mayer A high altitude balloon floats over Billings, Montana
# Intelligence
US Secretary of State postpones trip to China after alleged 'spy balloon' discovered
A statement from its Foreign Minister said the airship has limited steering capability and ‘deviated far from its planned course’ due to wind.

LAST UPDATE | Feb 3rd 2023, 3:51 PM

US SECRETARY OF State Antony Blinken has postponed a planned high-stakes weekend diplomatic trip to China as the Biden administration weighs a broader response to the discovery of a high-altitude Chinese balloon flying over sensitive sites in the western United States, a US official said.

The abrupt decision comes despite China’s claim that the balloon was a weather research satellite that had blown off course.

The US has described it as a surveillance satellite.

The decision came just hours before Blinken had been due to depart Washington for Beijing and marked a new blow to already strained US-Chinese relations.

Officials said Blinken and President Joe Biden determined it was best not to proceed with the trip at this time.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said it regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace.

Earlier today, China said it was looking into reports from the US about the balloon.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said China is a “responsible country” which has “always strictly abided by international laws” and “has no intention to violate the territory and airspace of any sovereign countries”.

“As for the balloon, as I’ve mentioned just now, we are looking into and verifying the situation and hope that both sides can handle this together calmly and carefully,” Mao said.

Mao said people should not judge “before we have a clear understanding of the facts”.

Yesterday, American officials said the suspected spy balloon had been spotted over US airspace for a couple of days, though the Pentagon decided not to shoot it down due to the risk of debris hurting people on the ground.

A senior defence official told reporters the US had a “very high confidence” it was a Chinese high-altitude balloon flying over sensitive sites to collect information.

One of the places the balloon was spotted was Montana, home to one of the nation’s three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base.

Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, provided a brief statement on the issue, saying the government continued to track the balloon.

He said it was “travelling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground”.

The senior US defence official said fighter jets, including F-22s, were put on standby to shoot down the balloon if ordered to by the White House.

The Pentagon ultimately recommended against it, saying that, even as the balloon was over a sparsely populated area of Montana, its size would create a debris field big enough to put people at risk.

The official would not specify the size of the balloon but said it was big enough that commercial pilots could see it despite its high altitude.

A photograph of a large white balloon lingering over the area was captured by the Billings Gazette, though the Pentagon would not confirm if that was the surveillance balloon.

The balloon’s altitude and length of time it lingered over a location was concerning, the official added.

Press Association
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