Washington, United States:
The US military said on Sunday it is seeking remnants of the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon it shot down the previous day, in a dramatic espionage story that has further strained US-China relations.
The US Navy is working to recover the balloon and its cargo and the Coast Guard is providing security for the operation, said General Glen VanHerck, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and US Northern Command.
A successful recovery could potentially give the United States insight into China’s espionage capabilities, though U.S. officials have downplayed the balloon’s impact on national security.
A US Air Force fighter jet shot down the balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday, a week after it first entered US airspace near Alaska. VanHerck said the incident occurred over US territorial waters.
China protested the response as a “clear overreaction”, but analysts said any counter-movement from Beijing is likely to be fine-tuned to prevent ties from deteriorating.
Republican lawmakers on Sunday criticized President Joe Biden for waiting days to shoot down the balloon as it hovered over the United States.
“I think part of that is the president’s reluctance to take any action that could be considered provocative or confrontational toward the Chinese communists,” said Republican Tom Cotton, a member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee.
Former President Donald Trump and his former national intelligence director, John Ratcliffe, denied Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s assessment that similar balloons had traveled across the United States during his presidency.
“China had too much respect for ‘TRUMP’ for this to happen, and it NEVER happened,” Trump wrote on social media site Truth Social.
But Republican Rep. Michael Waltz backed Austin, telling the Washington Post that the Pentagon had notified Congress that Chinese balloons had been spotted near the United States several times during Trump’s term.
He said balloons had been spotted near Texas and twice near Florida, as well as previously known sightings near Hawaii and Guam.
Democrats said Biden’s decision to wait to shoot down the balloon until it had passed over the United States protected civilians from debris crashing to Earth.
“The president called for this to be handled in a way that balances all the different risks. That’s exactly what happened,” US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg told NewsMadura’s “State of the Union” program. .
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer dismissed the Republican criticism as “premature and political.”
“The bottom line is that shooting the balloon over water was not only the safest option, but also the one that maximized our information gain,” he said at a news conference.
The Pentagon will brief senators on Feb. 15 about the balloon and Chinese oversight, Schumer said.
Republican Mike Turner, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he believed China was using the balloon to figure out how to counter US nuclear weapons and missile defense systems.
“The president has allowed this to get on our most sensitive sites and wasn’t even going to tell the American public,” Turner said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program.
Republican Marco Rubio, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told the ABC News program “This Week” that China was trying to broadcast a message that it could enter US airspace. Rubio said he doubted the balloon’s debris would be of significant intelligence value.
(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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