China accused the United States on Monday of illegally flying high-altitude balloons into its airspace more than ten times since the beginning of 2022. The claim drew a swift denial from the US government. The escalating dispute between the two nations began last weekend when the US military shot down a Chinese spy balloon, leading top US diplomat Antony Blinken to cancel a trip to Beijing aimed at reducing tensions.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin, made the accusation during a regular briefing in Beijing. He stated, “Since last year, the US’ high-altitude balloons have undergone more than 10 illegal flights into Chinese airspace without the approval of the relevant Chinese departments.” He called on the US to reflect on its actions and change its approach, while reserving the right to take necessary measures in response.
Wang did not provide further details on the balloons or their purpose, but he did say that China’s responses to the incursions have been “responsible and professional.” The White House promptly denied the accusation, with National Security Council spokesman Adrienne Watson calling it an attempt at damage control by Beijing. She stated in a statement, “Any claim that the US government operates surveillance balloons over the PRC (People’s Republic of China) is false.”
She went on to accuse China of having a high-altitude surveillance balloon program for intelligence collection that is connected to the People’s Liberation Army. Watson claimed that China has used the program to violate the sovereignty of the US and over 40 other countries across five continents. She also pointed out that China has failed to offer credible explanations for the intrusions.
In addition to the US government’s denial, national security spokesman John Kirby also stated in a television interview, “Just absolutely not true. We are not flying balloons over China.” The US Department of Defense did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Taiwan also responded to the situation, with its military reserving the right to shoot down any Chinese balloon deemed a threat. The Financial Times reported that China’s military frequently flies balloons over the island’s territory, with one occurring in recent weeks. Taiwan’s Defence Ministry spokesman, Sun Li-fang, stated that the ministry has rules in place to respond to new threats like balloons, and that the military will adopt appropriate measures, including shooting down threats, as needed.
The recent developments have raised questions about the increasing number of unusual objects appearing over North American skies and have heightened tensions between the US and China. US Representative Debbie Dingell expressed concern, saying, “We need the facts about where they are originating from, what their purpose is, and why their frequency is increasing.”
The situation has led to increased surveillance fears and has put US officials on high alert. Twice in 24 hours, US officials closed airspace, only to reopen it shortly after. The Federal Aviation Administration briefly closed airspace above Lake Michigan on Sunday, and the US military closed airspace over Lake Huron a day earlier. On President Joe Biden’s order, a US F-16 fighter shot down an octagonal object over Lake Huron that was potentially interfering with domestic air traffic and may have had surveillance activities. The military will try to recover the object to learn more about it.