The U.S. military on Saturday shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon that was witnessed traversing the country over the course of the past week, and in the immediate aftermath of the successful mission China is continuing to insist that the airship was nothing more than a civilian weather research tool, as Fox News reports.
Claiming that the balloon made its way into U.S. airspace “due to force majeure,” Beijing maintains that massive orb taken down over the Atlantic Ocean is “a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological purposes” and that its “limited self-steering capability” caused it to deviate from its planned route.
Though the presence of the balloon in the skies across America's midsection prompted outrage and alarm for the better part of last week, Chinese officials have asserted that it was all much ado about nothing.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Saturday declared, “This is entirely an unexpected situation caused by force majeure and the facts are very clear. China always acts in strict accordance with international law and respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries. We have no intention to violate and have never violated the territory or airspace of any sovereign country.”
Beijing went further, claiming that government officials and journalists in this country stoked irrational fear about the presence of the balloon, saying, “Some politicians and media in the U.S. have hyped it up to attack and smear China. The Chinese side is firmly opposed to that.”
Expressing anger over what it called America's “obvious overreaction,” the Foreign Ministry reserved the right to “take further actions” and reiterated that it “strongly disapproves and protests” the U.S. military's response.
Regardless of China's efforts to minimize the seriousness of the balloon's journey across the United States, a number of officials in Washington have taken issue with the claim that the orb itself was nothing more than a weather surveillance aid, as Fox News noted separately.
According to a senior U.S. Defense Department official who spoke to the outlet, the balloon originated in mainland China and is not believed to have simply and inadvertently veered off course. “This was intentional,” the official declared.
Senior Pentagon officials stated on Friday that the balloon's presence in American airspace represented “a clear and unacceptable violation of U.S. sovereignty and that Beijing's decision to send the surveillance airship into this country was a “bold” move.
NPR reported that President Joe Biden provided the necessary authorization for the military to take down the balloon as early as Wednesday of last week but was persuaded by officials to wait until the airship was not flying above civilian-occupied areas.
That reasoning, however, has not held water in the eyes of several prominent Republicans, including Sen. Tim Scott (SC), who said that the balloon “should have been shot down before it crossed the continental United States, not after” and added, “[w]e still don't know what information was collected and where it was sent. This was a dereliction of Biden's duty, and let's hope the American people don't pay a price.”
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio voiced concern over what the Chinese likely took away from the situation, saying, “[t]he message they were trying to send is what they believe internally, and that is that the United States is a once-great superpower that's hollowed out, it's in decline. The message they're trying to send the world is, 'Look, these guys can't even do anything about a balloon flying over U.S. airspace. How can you possibly count on them if something were to happen in the Indo-Pacific region?”
House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-MN) had a similarly scathing reaction, stating that “the Chinese Communist party invaded American airspace and President Biden's response was to withhold that information from our citizens and let the CCP complete its mission before letting the military step in.”
“It's a shame, but unsurprising given his soft-on-China record, that Biden failed to take decisive action in order to send a powerful message to our adversaries around the world,” Emmer added, and precisely what the fallout might be from the entire episode, only time will tell.