The maneuverable Chinese surveillance balloon, which was over Montana on February 2, was yesterday afternoon recorded at an altitude of about 60,000 feet and floating over the center of the continental United States in an easterly direction, posing no risk to commercial aviation, military assets or people on the ground, the Pentagon said.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command is continuing to monitor and leaders are reviewing options, said press secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, who held a media briefing yesterday.
“The balloon has violated U.S. airspace and international law, which is unacceptable,” he said, adding that the U.S. has communicated that to Chinese leaders at multiple levels.
The balloon is carrying surveillance gear as well as a payload, Ryder said, not elaborating about the payload.
A reason not to shoot it down at this point, he said, is that besides not posing a threat to people or aircraft, the resulting debris from a strike of this large balloon could be harmful to people on the ground and result in property damage.
The balloon most likely will continue floating over the U.S. for the next few days and updates will be provided as needed, he said.
“Once the balloon was detected, we acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information,” he added.
A second Chinese surveillance balloon has been sighted in the skies over Latin America, according to the Pentagon. “We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America. We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon,” Ryder said in a statement to CNN.
On Friday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke with the Director of the CCP Central Foreign Affairs Office Wang Yi to convey that he will not be traveling as planned to the People’s Republic of China at this time in light of the current presence of the balloon in U.S. airspace. The Secretary relayed that he had planned to visit Beijing to follow up on the agenda agreed to by President Biden and President Xi in November in Bali. The Secretary noted the PRC’s statement of regret but conveyed that this is an irresponsible act and a clear violation of U.S. sovereignty and international law that undermined the purpose of the trip. The Secretary explained that in light of this ongoing issue, it would not be appropriate to visit Beijing at this time. He underscored that the United States is committed to diplomatic engagement and maintaining open lines of communication, and that he would be prepared to visit Beijing as soon as conditions allow.