After China regretted the overflight of an alleged weather balloon in US airspace last Thursday (2), the Pentagon says it has identified another Chinese aerial object today, now in Latin America.
Without pinpointing the exact location of the balloon, Defense Department spokesman Pat Ryder said it was “another Chinese surveillance balloon”.
The discovery of the two Chinese devices in less than 3 days increased tension between the countries, causing US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to China to be canceled. The meeting was scheduled for this Sunday (5).
Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said US government tracking indicates the balloon seen over Montana is the size of three buses and that the object “traveled at an altitude well above air traffic.” commercial and does not pose a physical or military threat to people on the ground”.
“Instances of this activity have been observed in recent years, even before this administration,” added Ryder.
China followed suit. According to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning, the aircraft was indeed Chinese but entered US airspace “due to force majeure”.
“It is a civil aircraft used for research purposes, mainly meteorological. Affected by westerly winds and with limited self-steer capability, the aircraft deviated too far from its intended course. The Chinese side regrets the aircraft’s involuntary entry into US airspace,” Ning said in the statement.
The spokeswoman also stated that China “has never violated the territory and airspace of any sovereign country” and that the situation should be treated with a “cool head”.
Biden pulls out of press conference
At a press conference this Saturday, US President Joe Biden ignored a journalist’s question about “when and how he will remove the balloon”. He left the room without answering.
Reporter: “Mr. President, when and how will you remove the Chinese spy balloon?”
Joe Biden: ignores the question and walks away. pic.twitter.com/5MMORAhslJ
— Adiilson SP 🇧🇷🏳️🌈 (@adilsonesp) February 4, 2023
Initially, US Air Force jets were ready to shoot down the object detected in Montana. The Pentagon, however, backed down due to the risks that the wreckage could cause to the civilian population.
Balloons normally operate at 24,000 meters, but the object seen in Montana was at an altitude of 18,000 meters. To give you an idea, it is rare for planes to fly above 12,000 meters.
balloons and satellites
Although the US believes that Chinese satellites have greater capacity for surveillance and information gathering than balloons, the understanding is also that, unlike satellites – which fly over an area every 90 minutes – a balloon has the capacity to track a “standard of living,” a Pentagon official told CNN.
In an article published by The Guardian, the professor of international security and intelligence studies at the Australian National University, John Blaxland, justifies the reason that has led countries to use alleged spy balloons instead of satellites.
“Now that lasers or kinetic weapons are being invented to target satellites, there is a resurgence of interest in balloons. They don’t offer the same level of persistent surveillance as satellites, but they are easier to retrieve and much cheaper to launch. To send a satellite into space, you need a space launcher – a piece of equipment that normally costs hundreds of millions of dollars,” he explained.
The Chinese government has not yet commented on the discovery of the alleged second balloon this Saturday (4).
Editing: Raquel Setz
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