The US military has been tracking a suspected Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon used for spying activities over mainland United States.
A senior defense official said on Thursday that the Pentagon spotted the balloon several days ago as it made its way over the northern United States.
“We are confident that this high-altitude surveillance balloon belongs to the [People’s Republic of China],” Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said.
“The balloon is currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground,” Ryder said, adding that the US military decided against shooting the balloon down.
“Instances of this activity have been observed over the past several years, including prior to this administration,” the senior defense official added.
It was the “strong recommendation” of senior military leaders, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, “not to take kinetic action due to the risk to safety and security of people on the ground from the possible debris field,” the official said.
The official said the US government has engaged with the Chinese government both through the Chinese embassy in Washington and the US diplomatic mission in China. "We have communicated to [Chinese officials] the seriousness with which we take this issue. … But we have made clear we will do whatever is necessary to protect our people and our homeland.”
US President Joe Biden has been briefed on the balloon’s movements and requested options on how to deal with it, according to another senior administration official.
Biden took Milley’s advice not to order the balloon shot down and the official stressed that it does not pose a threat emphasizing that the administration acted “immediately” to protect against the collection of sensitive information.
China, in the past, has been producing and selling weather balloons used for upper-air meteorological observation.
Meanwhile, a US-based political commentator says as Washington witnesses its “decline in power”, it feels threatened by China’s growing clout, and in response it is making threats against Beijing.
In a recent interview with Press TV, Jim Kavanagh said the US believes it is "under threat, it is declining in power, and it is going to try and stop it in some way, … and that is why it is making threats against China, which it sees as a rising power.”
He said instead of giving diplomacy a chance as an alternative to violence, the US is issuing war threats against its arch-foe China, unable to come to terms with the latter's supremacy.
“Why is there no diplomacy? Because the United States is afraid of the rise of China as a strong economic, political and military power and cannot abide by the fact that Chinese are probably going to be the superior power,” Kavanagh pointed out.