The United States is working to recover a suspected Chinese spy balloon that was shot down off the coast of South Carolina, according to a statement released by the Pentagon.
“Our US Navy component is currently conducting recovery operations, with the US Coast Guard assisting in securing the area and maintaining public safety,” General Glen VanHerck, the commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and US Northern Command, said.
China says the airship was used for meteorological and other scientific purposes.
It comes after Colombia confirmed a sighting of an airborne object similar to a balloon flying over its territory, a day after a US military jet shot down the suspected Chinese spy balloon off the country’s Atlantic Coast.
Colombia’s air force issued a statement providing limited details concerning a possible balloon its air defence system had located Friday morning.
US military officials on Friday said another Chinese balloon was spotted somewhere over Latin America but did not specify its location.
According to the Colombian air force statement, an “object” was detected over its territory at an altitude of 16,764 metres that had entered the South American country’s airspace to the north moving at an average speed of 25 knots, or roughly 46.3 kilometres per hour.
The statement added that the object exhibited “characteristics similar to those of a balloon,” and that the air force monitored it until if left the country’s airspace.
“It was determined that it did not represent a threat to national security,” the statement added.
The Colombian statement did not mention China or any other country as the balloon’s origin.
No other official confirmation of unidentified balloons flying over other Latin American countries has been issued as of Sunday.
In recent days, however, balloon sightings have been made in Venezuela and Costa Rica by multiple social media users.
Costa Rican officials received reports of a balloon on Thursday (local time) and planes were notified, according to the head of the civil aviation agency.
“It was the same thing everyone else saw, a white ball,” said Fernando Naranjo, Costa Rica’s civil aviation director, adding that no further action was taken.
Republicans criticise Biden’s response
Republicans have lashed into Joe Biden over his handling of the Chinese balloon incident, which has strained already taut US-Chinese relations.
Marco Rubio, vice chair of the Senate intelligence committee, criticised the US President for waiting so long to alert the public as the alleged spy balloon made its “unprecedented” flight over America, saying this amounted to “dereliction of duty.”
He described the overflight as a brazen effort by Beijing timed to embarrass Mr Biden just before his State of the Union message on Tuesday, and to disrupt a since-cancelled China visit by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Mr Rubio, appearing on CNN, said Beijing’s message was: “We have the ability to do this, and America can’t do anything about it”.
And Representative Mike Turner, who chairs the House intelligence committee, used a football comparison in blasting Mr Biden for waiting to down the balloon.
“Clearly the president taking it down over the Atlantic is … sort of like tackling the quarterback after the game is over,” he said.
“The satellite had completed its mission. It should never have been allowed to enter the United States.”
China protests ‘use of force’ by US
In Beijing, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday expressed China’s “strong dissatisfaction and protests against the use of force by the United States to attack the unmanned civilian airship.”
It added that China reserved “the right to make further necessary responses.”
Beijing has said the balloon was primarily gathering weather data and that it had been blown off course.
US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, asked about possible further consequences for China, told CNN: “You can expect any further developments will be appropriate in response to what happened.”
He stressed that the operation was carried out “in a very effective, excellent way,” without damage or injury on the ground.
Craft has ‘propellers on it’
Admiral Mike Mullen, the former chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Sunday that he expected the balloon’s debris would be retrieved “relatively shortly” from waters off South Carolina.
It was shot down Saturday by a missile fired from a US fighter jet.
Asked if he thought elements in the Chinese military might have launched the balloon intentionally to disrupt Mr Blinken’s visit — the secretary’s first to China since Mr Biden took office — he said, “clearly, I think that’s the case”.
Mr Mullen said the craft was manoeuvrable and he rejected China’s suggestion that it might have blown off course.
“It has propellers on it,” he said.
“This was not an accident. This was deliberate. It was intelligence.”
Source : ABC News