China accuses US of indiscriminate use of force after balloon shot down

The American military brought the suspected spy balloon down off the coast of Carolina.

The balloon is shot down
The balloon is shot down

Chinese officials have accused the United States of an indiscriminate use of force after the American military shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon on Saturday.

A senior official in Beijing said the incident had “seriously impacted and damaged both sides’ efforts and progress in stabilising Sino-US relations”.

The US shot down a balloon off the South Carolina coast after it traversed sensitive military sites across North America. China insisted the flyover came about as an accident involving a civilian aircraft.

Chinese newspapers
Copies of the Chinese Daily News newspaper showcase pictures of the Chinese balloon, in the Chinatown district of Los Angeles (AP)

Chinese vice foreign minister Xie Feng said he had lodged a formal complaint with the US embassy on Sunday over the “US attack on a Chinese civilian unmanned airship by military force”.

He said: “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.”

The presence of the balloon in the skies above the US dealt a severe blow to already strained US-Chinese relations, which have been in a downward spiral for years.

Balloon graphic
The balloon’s path across the US (AP)

It prompted US secretary of state Antony Blinken to abruptly cancel a high-stakes Beijing trip aimed at easing tensions.

Mr Xie repeated China’s insistence that the balloon was a Chinese civil unmanned airship that blew into the US by mistake, calling it “an accidental incident caused by force majeure”.

China would “resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies, resolutely safeguard China’s interests and dignity and reserve the right to make further necessary responses,” he said.

US President Joe Biden issued the order to shoot down the balloon after he was advised that the best times for the operation would be when it was over water, US officials said.

Military experts determined that bringing down the balloon over land from an altitude of 60,000ft would pose an undue risk to people on the ground.

Reaction to the balloon story
China accused the United States of indiscriminate use of force when the American military shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon (AP)

“What the US has done has seriously impacted and damaged both sides’ efforts and progress in stabilising Sino-US relations since the Bali meeting,” Mr Xie said, referring to the recent meeting between Mr Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Indonesia that many hoped would create positive momentum for improving ties that have spiralled to their lowest level in years.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning provided no fresh details, repeating China’s insistence the object was a civilian balloon intended for meteorological research, had little ability to steer and entered over the US by accidentally diverging from its course.

Nor did she say what additional steps China intended to take in response to Washington’s handling of the issue and cancellation of Mr Blinken’s trip, which would have made him the highest ranking US official to visit since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The balloon in the air
The balloon seen drifting above the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of South Carolina (Chad Fish via AP)

“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,” Ms Mao said at a daily briefing. “This is an unacceptable and irresponsible action.”

At a news conference on Friday with his South Korean counterpart, Mr Blinken said “the presence of this surveillance balloon over the United States in our skies is a clear violation of our sovereignty, a clear violation of international law, and clearly unacceptable. And we’ve made that clear to China”.

He added: “Any country that has its airspace violated in this way I think would respond similarly, and I can only imagine what the reaction would be in China if they were on the other end.”

Oriana Skylar Mastro, an expert on Chinese military affairs and foreign policy at Stanford University, said China’s “weather balloon” excuse should be dismissed outright.

“This is like a standard thing that countries often say about surveillance assets,” Ms Mastro said.

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