China lodges protest over U.S. shooting down ‘civilian airship’

The suspected Chinese spy balloon drifts to the ocean after being shot down off the coast in Surfside Beach, South Carolina, U.S. on February 4, 2023.
| Photo Credit: Reuters

China’s government said on Monday it had “lodged solemn representations” with the United States over the shooting down of a surveillance balloon that had drifted for several days over the continental U.S.

Beijing has acknowledged the balloon was from China, but denied it was for surveillance, instead describing it as a “civilian airship” used for meteorology.

Also read: Explained | Chinese balloon: Many questions about suspected spy in U.S. sky

The U.S. military on Sunday shot down the balloon in American airspace after it drifted east over the Atlantic, after days of floating over land.

China’s Foreign Ministry on Monday said Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng had on Sunday “lodged solemn representations with the U.S. Embassy in China over the U.S. use of force to attack China’s civilian unmanned airship.”

Mr. Xie “stressed that the entry of the Chinese airship into U.S. airspace due to force majeure was totally unexpected and accidental, and that the ins and outs of what happened are crystal clear and clearly do not allow room for distortion or smearing,” the statement said.

“However, the U.S. side has turned a deaf ear to all of this and overreacted by insisting on the abusive use of force towards the civilian airship that was on route to leave U.S. airspace,” he was quoted as saying, adding that “this act has seriously violated the spirit of international law and international practice”.

Also read: Republicans assail Biden over handling of Chinese balloon

“What the U.S.  has done severely impacted and undermined the efforts and progress made by the two sides to stabilise China-U.S. relations since the two countries’ leaders met in Bali, Indonesia,” Mr. Xie said, referring to Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping agreeing in November to prevent conflict.

As part of that agreement, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was expected to begin a visit to China on Monday. The U.S. cancelled the visit citing the balloon incident.

Mr. Xie said Beijing was “closely following the development of the situation, and will resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of the Chinese company concerned and safeguard China’s interests and dignity, and reserves the right to further react in response to this matter, if necessary.”

On Monday, the Foreign Ministry said another balloon that had been spotted over the skies of Latin America was also from China and had similarly drifted off course.

“With regard to the balloon over Latin America, it has been verified that the unmanned airship is from China, of civilian nature and used for flight test,” spokesperson Mao Ning said. “Affected by the weather and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course and entered into the airspace of Latin America and the Caribbean. China is a responsible country and always acts in strict accordance with international law. We have informed relevant sides. It is being properly handled and will not pose any threat to any country. They have expressed their understanding.”

Ms. Mao said “the Chinese side has made it clear” to the U.S. “that this is entirely an unexpected, isolated incident caused by force majeure.” “The US side’s deliberate hyping up of the matter and even use of force,” she said, “are unacceptable and irresponsible.”

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