The U.S. on Monday refuted China’s allegations that Washington has been sending “high-altitude balloons” into its airspace.
The White House’s response came hours after the Chinese Foreign Ministry made the claim. According to spokesperson Wang Wenbin, “Since last year, the U.S.’ high-altitude balloons have undergone more than 10 illegal flights into Chinese airspace without the approval of the relevant Chinese departments.”
Wang did not provide further information. Adrienne Watson, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, described the claim as China’s effort for damage control as recovered pieces of its own downed balloon point to a massive surveillance program:
Any claim that the U.S. government operates surveillance balloons over the PRC (People’s Republic of China) is false. It is China that has a high-altitude surveillance balloon program for intelligence collection, connected to the People’s Liberation Army, that it has used to violate the sovereignty of the United States and over 40 countries across five continents.
An F-22 fighter jet shot down China’s high-altitude balloon on Feb. 4 after it hovered over the continental U.S. for several days. Despite evidence showing that it was used for tracking communications, Beijing insists it was a weather balloon gone astray.
A second balloon spotted in Colombia and Costa Rica around the same time was also confirmed to be Chinese.
In response, Beijing said it was also a civilian airship with limited maneuverability that was thrown off-course by weather conditions.
As a result of Beijing’s actions, six Chinese aerospace companies became targets of U.S. sanctions Friday. According to the Commerce Department, the entities were tied to the Chinese military’s “aerospace programs including airships and balloons and related materials and components.”
“The PRC’s use of high-altitude balloons violates our sovereignty and threatens U.S. national security,” Under Secretary of Commerce for Industry and Security Alan Estevez said in a statement.
“Today’s action makes clear that entities that seek to harm U.S. national security and sovereignty will be cut off from accessing U.S. technologies.”
On Sunday, the U.S. military downed a fourth flying object spotted in North American airspace in just over a week. As of press time, China has not claimed ownership of the aerial objects.