US federal officials said this week that a Chinese surveillance balloon had been spotted over the United States and Canada, but China insisted Friday that it’s a “civilian airship.” The Biden administration clearly isn’t buying that. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that his department is “confident” the high-altitude craft is being used for surveillance and canceled his planned trip to Beijing this weekend.
“It’s a violation of international law,” Blinken added at a later press conference. “It’s irresponsible.”
A Pentagon spokesperson said the military has been tracking the balloon for several days and that President Joe Biden was first briefed about it Tuesday. The administration has been advised not to shoot it down out of safety concerns on the ground.
In an update Friday, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters the balloon continues to move east over the central US and doesn’t “present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.” Ryder also said repeatedly that the craft has the ability to maneuver and doesn’t seem to have simply drifted off course.
“Clearly … it’s violated US airspace. And again, we’ve communicated that fact” to the Chinese government, Ryder said.
A spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry told reporters that the airship is used for mainly meteorological research purposes, calling the entry into US airspace unintended and regretful.
Meanwhile, pilots continue to report sightings of the balloon. It’s also possible to see it from the ground with a decent zoom lens. Not surprisingly, footage of the interloper has begun to show up on social media. Officials say they’ll continue to monitor its travels for now.