US urged to explain balloon flights in Chinese airspace

Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin also said that the US is undoubtedly the world's leading perpetrator of state-sponsored surveillance.



February 16, 2023

BEIJING – Beijing on Tuesday urged Washington to carry out a thorough investigation and give China an explanation about US balloons entering Chinese airspace.

“The US had released several high-altitude balloons from its soil since May 2022, which continuously circled the globe and illegally flew in the airspace of China and other countries at least 10 times,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a daily news briefing.

“The US needs to conduct a thorough investigation and give China an explanation,” Wang said, calling on countries to pay attention to US’ wiretapping and theft operations.

Wang said that the US is undoubtedly the world’s leading perpetrator of state-sponsored surveillance, noting that European countries and many others had experienced this.

Wang cited US media outlet Politico as saying that the Pentagon has invested billions of dollars in the research and development of high-altitude reconnaissance balloons since 1997.

The US military also quietly transitioned the balloon projects to the military services last year, which could be used to track Chinese and Russian hypersonic strategic cruise missiles, Wang added.

According to a report released by the Beijing-based Qi An Pangu Lab last year, Equation, a hacking group under the US National Security Agency, has been conducting a decadelong cyberattack operation against 45 countries and regions, covering industries such as communications and economic and military sectors.

In response to North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s claim that the balloons shot down by the US last week were “part of a pattern of surveillance” by China and Russia, Wang said that this is “purely malicious speculation and a deliberate smear”.

China has repeatedly made it clear that the unintended entry of an unmanned Chinese airship into US airspace was an unexpected and isolated incident.

“China calls on NATO to cease its unwarranted accusations against the country,” Wang said, urging the alliance to stop creating imaginary enemies and pushing its boundaries. Instead, NATO was called on to take concrete actions to contribute to global peace and stability.

In another development, Wang accused the US of “coercing and blackmailing” China by invoking the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty, saying that this will in no way alter China’s firm determination and strong will to safeguard its legitimate rights and interests.

His comments came as the US issued a statement on Monday saying that it stood with the Philippines after Manila accused the China Coast Guard of using a laser against the crew of a Philippine Coast Guard ship in the South China Sea.

On Feb 6, a Philippine Coast Guard vessel intruded into waters off the Ren’ai Reef without Chinese permission.

The China Coast Guard ship acted “in a professional and restrained way”, Wang said, adding that China and the Philippines have been in communication on the incident through diplomatic channels and the situation in the area is generally calm.

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