China said it “reserves the right” to deal with “similar situations” following the US decision to shoot down its high-altitude balloon.
“The United States used force to attack our civilian unmanned airship. This is an obvious overreaction. Chinese Ministry of National Defense Spokesperson Tan Kefei issued a statement on Sunday afternoon local time, saying that we express our solemn protest against the United States’ move.
He added that China “reserves the right to take necessary measures to deal with similar situations”.
China’s foreign ministry earlier on Sunday accused the United States of “overreacting” and “seriously violating international conventions” after U.S. military fighter jets shot down balloons over the Atlantic on Saturday in what President Joe Biden called a successful mission.
The U.S. believes the balloon was involved in espionage, but China has disputed that, insisting it was a civilian research vessel blown off course.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement: “After verification, the Chinese side has notified the U.S. side many times that the airship was for civilian use and entered the U.S. territory due to force majeure. It was a complete accident.”
“Force majeure” is a legal term that means “greater force”. It relieves a party from liability if an unforeseen event, such as a natural disaster, prevents the party from performing its obligations under the contract.
China clearly requires the US to handle it properly in a calm, professional and restrained manner. A DoD spokesperson also stated that the balloon did not pose a military or physical threat to personnel on the ground,” the DoD statement continued.
“China will resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of the companies concerned, while reserving the right to make further necessary responses,” the foreign ministry added.
China’s state media announced on Saturday that the head of the country’s meteorological department had been removed, a move some analysts saw as an attempt to bolster Beijing’s position that high-altitude balloons are civilian in nature and used primarily for meteorological purposes.
Zhuang Guotai served as head of the China Meteorological Administration until Friday, but his departure was not unexpected. In late January, Zhuang was elected chairman of the Western Provincial Political Consultative Conference of Gansu Province.
U.S. officials disputed China’s repeated claim that the downed balloon was intended for civilian use only and entered U.S. airspace “accidentally.”
“This is a PRC (People’s Republic of China) surveillance balloon. This surveillance balloon deliberately traveled across the United States and Canada, and we believe it is seeking to monitor sensitive military locations,” a senior U.S. government official said.
The official said the second balloon spotted over Central and South America was “another Chinese surveillance balloon” and had similar technical characteristics to the one that flew over the United States.
“The two balloons also carry surveillance equipment not normally associated with standard meteorological activities or civilian research,” the official said. “The collection capsule equipment and solar panels located on metal trusses suspended below the balloons are distinguishing features of both balloons.”
Pentagon officials said earlier this week that the balloons did not pose a “military or physical” threat. Because falling debris could injure civilians, the U.S. decided not to shoot down the balloon while it was over land, but to wait until it was over the ocean.
The U.S. military will now focus on debris recovery efforts.
The incident is the latest in a string of espionage cases and has sparked a diplomatic crisis between Beijing and Washington.
Meanwhile, Taiwan authorities said on Sunday that the Chinese balloon incident “should not be tolerated by a civilized international community”.
Although it has never controlled the self-governing island, which China claims as part of its territory, the island has had a similar experience with balloon flights over its territory.
“Such actions by the Chinese communist government violate international law, violate the airspace of other countries, and violate the sovereignty of other countries,” Taiwan’s foreign ministry said in a statement, calling on the Chinese government to “immediately stop such acts of violating the territory of other countries and destabilizing the region.” . ”
Balloons believed to be used for “meteorological observation” flew over the island in September 2021 and February 2022, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense.
But it was unclear whether the balloons were the same type that was shot down by U.S. fighter jets on Saturday.