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Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Conflicts: US military shoots down suspected spy balloon

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US fighter pilots use a rocket to take the suspected Chinese spy balloon out of the sky. The United States complains that its sovereignty has been violated. Beijing protests against the “overreaction”.

The shooting down of a suspected Chinese spy satellite by US fighter jets has heightened tensions between China and the US. After days of observation, US fighter jets crashed the “surveillance balloon” with a rocket off the Atlantic coast of the state of South Carolina on the instructions of US President Joe Biden.

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China has been accused of an “unacceptable violation” of US sovereignty. The balloon was supposed to spy on strategically important military locations. Beijing protested against the “overreaction” on Sunday, rejected the allegations of espionage and spoke of a “civilian” research balloon going astray.

Colombia and the US are currently tracking a possible additional observation balloon that has been sighted over the Latin American country. The Colombian Air Force reported that an object with “properties similar to a balloon” had entered its airspace. It was discovered on Friday morning at an altitude of around 17 kilometers, but “does not pose a threat to national security”.

US President Biden says he ordered the balloon to be launched over the United States on Wednesday. When he was informed, he immediately ordered the flying object to be shot down “as quickly as possible”. A risk for the people on the ground should be excluded. Therefore, it was decided to shoot down the flying object only over the sea and within US sovereign territory.

Beijing: Balloon served “civilian purposes”

China’s government expressed its “strong dissatisfaction” with the use of force. It is a “serious violation” of international practices. China reserves the right to “necessary reactions,” said a foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing. China has repeatedly informed the United States that the balloon is for civilian purposes and that it flew over the United States “by force majeure, which was completely accidental.” He was said to have drifted far off course due to westerly wind drift and a lack of control options. The Pentagon itself said the balloon posed no threat to the military or people on the ground.

The United States hopes to get more information about the mission from the devices. The balloon was sighted in the US state of Montana near a US air force base, where ICBMs equipped with nuclear warheads are stored. During its flyover, the US took immediate steps to prevent the balloon from collecting sensitive information. The intelligence service damage is estimated to be rather small. The balloon was first sighted on January 28 when it entered US airspace near the Aleutian Islands in the state of Alaska.

When the white balloon finally hovered 18 to 20 kilometers above the Atlantic coast on Saturday, fighter jets rose and brought it down with an AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air guided missile. TV pictures and videos from eyewitnesses showed how the balloon was hit and crashed.

Bliken canceled trip

The balloon affair developed into a new heavy strain on the already strained relations between the two powers. In response, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled his visit to Beijing, which was expected for Sunday, at short notice on Friday. It would have been the first visit by a US Secretary of State to China since 2018. According to media reports, Blinken should also have been received by China’s head of state and party leader Xi Jinping.

Although the expectations of the visit were not high, there were hopes that it would calm the turbulent and difficult relations. Blinken underlined that the US wanted to keep the communication channels to Beijing open and that the visit should be made up for soon “if conditions allow”.

Chinese state media accused Blinken of using the balloon as an excuse to cancel. After the government initially “regretted” the balloon’s entry into US airspace in an unusually defensive manner, a Beijing foreign ministry spokesman went on the offensive again: “Some politicians and media in the US have used the situation to attack China and bring it into disrepute .”

“I don’t think the (Chinese) leadership understands what a big political issue this spy balloon in (Washington) DC is becoming,” said China expert Bill Bishop. “It darkens an already intensely somber mood in the Capitol.” In Congress, Biden will deliver his annual State of the Union address on Tuesday.

China has a fleet of surveillance balloons, a Pentagon official said, including the balloon over Latin America, according to US broadcaster ABC. They have previously been sighted across five continents, including East Asia, South Asia and Europe.

The use of balloons as observation platforms is not uncommon. Unlike satellites, they can stay in one place and don’t have to make a new orbit around the earth to take more pictures, experts say. They can observe more details and movements over a longer period of time from closer up, and are difficult to detect for radar. They could also intercept communications. The controls are significantly improved today. They are also cheaper than satellites.

Source: Stern

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