US says suspected spy balloon part of broader China surveillance programme
Washington on Thursday said that a suspected Chinese spy balloon spotted hovering over the US last week was part of a broader Beijing military surveillance programme targeting more than 40 countries.
The US alleges that the manufacturer of the balloon has a “direct relationship” with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Reuters reported, citing a senior State Department official.
“The United States will also explore taking action against PRC entities linked to the PLA that supported the balloon’s incursion into US airspace,” the official told Reuters.
“We are confident that the balloon manufacturer has a direct relationship with China’s military and is an approved vendor of the PLA, according to information published in an official procurement portal for the PLA.”
The US Air Force on Saturday shot down the balloon off the Carolinas coast, a week after it had entered US airspace.
The Navy and Coast Guard are still recovering debris from the balloon, which was more than 60m wide and weighed more than 900 kilograms.
China claims that the aircraft was a civilian balloon used for weather research and charted off course, a claim the US rejects out of hand.
“I can assure you this was not for civilian purposes … we are 100 per cent clear about that,” Pentagon spokesman Brig Gen Pat Ryder said on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, a US Senate committee was scheduled to hold a hearing on China’s “high altitude surveillance efforts against” the US.
The incident was the latest to escalate tensions between Washington and Beijing, prompting Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone his long-planned trip to China.