Surfside Beach, South Carolina:
US military warplanes shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon on Saturday as it hovered off the coast of South Carolina, ending a dramatic saga that spotlighted deteriorating Sino-US relations.
“We successfully removed it and I want to commend our airmen who did it,” said President Joe Biden.
Biden said he had issued an order on Wednesday to bring down the balloon, but the Pentagon had recommended waiting until it could be done over open water to protect civilians from debris crashing to Earth from thousands of feet above commercial air traffic.
Multiple fighters and tankers were involved in the mission, but only one – an F-22 fighter jet from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia – made the shot at 2:39 p.m. (1939 GMT), using a single AIM-9X supersonic , heat-seeking air-to-air missile, a senior US military official said.
The balloon was shot down about six nautical miles off the U.S. coast, over relatively shallow water, possibly aiding efforts to recover key elements of China’s surveillance equipment from the rubble in the coming days, officials said.
The shooting occurred shortly after the U.S. government ordered a halt to flights to and from three South Carolina airports — Wilmington, Myrtle Beach and Charleston — over what it said at the time was an undisclosed “national security effort.” Flights resumed on Saturday afternoon.
The balloon first entered US airspace on Jan. 28 before entering Canadian airspace on Monday, Jan. 30. It then re-entered US airspace on Jan. 31, a US defense official said. Once it crossed American land, it did not return to the open waters, making shooting difficult.
U.S. officials did not disclose the balloon’s presence over the United States until Thursday.
Washington called it a “clear violation” of US sovereignty and notified Beijing of the shooting on Saturday, a US official said.
“Our assessment — and we’ll learn more as we pick up the debris — was that it probably wouldn’t add significant value to other (Chinese) intelligence capabilities, such as low-Earth orbit satellites,” the senior U.S. defense official said. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was the first to announce the shooting, saying the balloon was being used by China “in an effort to monitor strategic locations in the continental United States.”
A Reuters photographer who witnessed the shooting said a jet came out of a jet and hit the balloon, but there was no explosion. It then started to fall, the photographer said.
The US military did not immediately recover the payload of the Chinese surveillance balloon, US officials said.
The FAA had issued a temporary flight restriction to clear the airspace around the South Carolina coast. The message blocked flights beyond 100 square miles (260 square kilometers) — mostly over the Atlantic Ocean, according to a document posted by the FAA. The message warned that the military could use deadly force if planes violate restrictions and fail to comply with orders to leave.
The Reuters photographer in the Myrtle Beach area was able to see the suspected spy balloon overhead, with two US military jets next to it.
China expressed regret that an “airship” used for civilian meteorological and other scientific purposes had entered US airspace.
China’s foreign ministry said on Saturday that the “airship”‘s flight over the United States was a force majeure and accused US politicians and media of taking advantage of the situation to discredit Beijing.
But the Pentagon rules that the balloon was just the latest in a series of Chinese spy balloon activities around the world. On Friday, it said another Chinese balloon was currently flying over Latin America.
“In recent years, Chinese balloons have previously been spotted over countries on five continents, including East Asia, South Asia and Europe,” the senior defense official said. The suspected Chinese spy balloon prompted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone a visit to China this week that was expected to begin Friday.
The postponement of Blinken’s trip, which Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to in November, is a blow to those who saw it as an opportunity to stabilize the increasingly troubled relationship between the two countries.
China would like a stable relationship with the US so it can focus on its economy, battered by its now-abandoned zero-COVID policy and neglected by foreign investors alarmed by what they see as a return of state intervention in the market.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NewsMadura staff and is being published from a syndicated feed.)
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