US shoots down Chinese Balloon, Beijing claims this Violates International Practices
China has sharply criticized the Pentagon's decision to shoot down the balloon, which was spotted over various parts of the United States and which Beijing claimed was an errant meteorological aircraft.
US fighter jets were earlier reported to have shot down the Chinese balloon, which the Pentagon said was being used to monitor "strategic sites over the continental United States". The news was announced by Defense Minister Lloyd Austin.
According to the Chinese side, the reaction of the Americans was excessive and represented a serious violation of international practices. The Foreign Ministry in Beijing said they reserve the right to provide the necessary answers in the future:
"China expresses strong dissatisfaction and protests against the use of force by the United States to attack the unmanned civilian airship," the Foreign Ministry statement in Beijing said, adding that it "reserves the right to take further necessary countermeasures."
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin described the operation to shoot down the balloon as "a deliberate and lawful action in response to a violation of the country's sovereignty".
President Joe Biden congratulated the fighter pilots for bringing down the balloon after it spent days flying over the country.
"They successfully brought it down. And I want to congratulate our airmen who did it," Biden told reporters in Maryland, as quoted by AFP.
The action took place after three southeast airports were temporarily closed. In footage shown on American television networks, the balloon appeared to be falling vertically.
At first, American officials were reluctant to take it down. Later, however, when asked about the incident, President Biden promised to "take care" of the balloon.
The dispute erupted on Thursday when US officials said they were tracking a large Chinese "surveillance balloon" in US skies. This prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel an important trip to Beijing.
Beijing acknowledged ownership of the "aerial object" but said it was a weather balloon that had gone off course, adding that it regretted the situation.
"The airship is from China. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological purposes," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday:
"The Chinese side expresses regret for the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure," it also states.
The balloon flew over parts of the northwestern United States, including the state of Montana, where sensitive air bases and strategic nuclear missiles are located in underground silos.
American media reported that the balloon was spotted over North and South Carolina.
The balloon was reportedly flying at an altitude well above the levels used by commercial aircraft, although some private pilots said on social media that it was "uncomfortably close".
Another suspected Chinese spy balloon has been spotted over Latin America, the Pentagon said Friday, without providing details on its location.
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