The US-China relations were already strained over the Taiwan issue and the reports that TikTok is sharing US data with the Chinese government. But now it could further escalate as the US is tracking a suspected Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon over the continental United States, defense officials said on Thursday (February 2).
The Pentagon decided not to shoot it down over concerns of hurting people on the ground, officials said Thursday.
Pentagon's statement: A senior defense official told Pentagon reporters that the US has “very high confidence” it is a Chinese high-altitude balloon and it was flying over sensitive sites to collect information. One of the places the balloon was spotted was Montana, which is home to one of the nation’s three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base, reported AP.
Not the first time: Brig Gen Patrick Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, said that similar balloon activity has been seen in the past several years but the US took steps to ensure it did not collect sensitive information. However, this one has lingered in the US airspace much longer, he said.
Fighter jets were ready to shoot it down: The US had its fighter jets, including F-22s, ready to shoot down the balloon if ordered to by the White House, but the Pentagon ultimately recommended against it. Even though the balloon was over a sparsely populated area of Montana, its size would create a debris field large enough that it could have put people at risk, an official said.
China hopes to handle matter 'calmly': China said that it is verifying the reports on the "suspected spy balloon over the US," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a press briefing.
Stressing that China has no intention of violating the territory and airspace of any sovereign state, Mao said China hopes to handle the matter calmly and prudently with the US, CGTN reported."Speculation and hype are not conducive until the facts are clear," said. Mao
Blinken's China trip: The incident comes as Secretary of State Antony Blinken was supposed to make his first trip to Beijing this weekend to try to find some common ground. It was not immediately clear if the discovery of the balloon would impact Blinken’s travel plans.
Spying allegations on China: Several US states are moving fast to ban the usage of TikTok on government devices beacuse there is a growing perception with US lawmakers that the Chinese app, privately steals the data of US citizens which can be used by the Chinese government.
US representative, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Representative James Comer Republican on the Oversight Committee, wrote to TikTok saying that information provided in a staff bearing seemed inadequate.