March 4. 2024. 10:36

The Daily

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China accuses US of overreacting by shooting down unmanned balloon over the Atlantic

China has accused the United States of “hyping up” the passage of an unmanned Chinese balloon over its territory and of overreacting by shooting it down over the Atlantic Ocean. But Beijing acknowledged that a second balloon sighted over parts of Latin America was a Chinese airship that was blown off course.

“It has made an unintended entry into the airspace of Latin American countries,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said. “It’s for civilian purposes, and it is affected by the weather and with limited self-steering capability.”

The US has alleged that the balloon that entered its airspace over Alaska and drifted across the country to South Carolina over the course of a week was engaged in surveillance on behalf of the Chinese government. US secretary of state Antony Blinken postponed a planned visit to Beijing as political controversy over the balloon gathered momentum in Washington.

China has described it as a civilian airship collecting mostly meteorological data that was blown off course by strong westerly winds. But Ms Mao offered no new details about it on Monday and declined to identify the civilian company that owned it.

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“We have stated that this is completely an isolated and accidental incident caused by force majeure, but the US still hyped up the incident on purpose and even used force to attack,” she said. “This is an unacceptable and irresponsible action.”

China lodged a formal diplomatic protest with the US embassy in Beijing after the balloon was shot down and warned that it could take further action in response to it. Vice-foreign minister Xie Feng said Beijing had made clear that the balloon was a civilian airship that had entered US airspace by accident.

“However, the United States turned a deaf ear and insisted on indiscriminate use of force against the civilian airship that was about to leave the United States airspace, obviously overreacted and seriously violated the spirit of international law and international practice,” he said. “What the US has done has seriously impacted and damaged both sides’ efforts and progress in stabilising Sino-US relations.”

Although Mr Blinken’s planned visit to Beijing was never formally announced, Washington made clear last week that it had been postponed rather than cancelled because of the balloon.

The visit was planned as part of an effort by Joe Biden and Xi Jinping to restore dialogue between the US and China despite the competition and disagreements between them. The US has spoken about putting “guardrails” around the relationship to avoid unintended escalation but Ms Mao said Washington’s response to the balloon had cast doubt on the sincerity of its approach.

“The unintended entry of this airship [into the US] is entirely an isolated, accidental incident. It tests the sincerity the US has in improving and stabilising bilateral relations and the way it handles crisis,” she said. “We hope the US will work with China to properly handle our differences, avoid miscalculation and misunderstanding and harming our mutual trust.”