China reacts to US downing of ‘civilian airship’

Beijing claimed the right to retaliate after the Pentagon shot down what it called a “spy balloon”

China has blasted US President Joe Biden’s decision on Saturday to scramble an advanced F-22 stealth fighter jet to bring down a Chinese high-altitude balloon – after it traversed the United States – as an “obvious overreaction” and a “serious violation of international practice.”

As the US military sent a salvage vessel to recover the debris that landed in shallow waters about 6 nautical miles off the coast of South Carolina, China’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Sunday morning, expressing its “strong dissatisfaction and protest against the US use of force to attack civilian unmanned airships.”

“China will resolutely uphold the relevant company’s legitimate rights and interests, and at the same time reserving the right to take further actions in response,” the ministry said.

Biden said he initially wanted to shoot the balloon down as early as Wednesday, a day before the Pentagon first publicly acknowledged it had been tracking the suspicious craft. However, defense officials allegedly convinced him to wait until it was safe for people on the ground, arguing that it posed no threat to national security, despite traversing over multiple sensitive military locations at an altitude of around 18km (60,000 feet).

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin accused China of using the balloon “in an attempt to surveil strategic sites in the continental United States,” in a statement after the “successful” air-to-air missile strike that brought it down above US territorial waters on Saturday.

China insisted that it was “a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological purposes,” which allegedly deviated far from its planned course due to “force majeure.”

The incident forced US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone a planned trip to Beijing, over what he called “a clear violation of US sovereignty.” China countered that no such visit had been agreed to in the first place.

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