The U.S. Air Force fired down China's "High-altitude surveillance balloon" over the eastern coast on the 4th (local time). It has been a week since the "spy balloon" was first discovered in the U.S. mainland, and three days after President Joe Biden ordered the shooting down. U.S.-China relations are frozen, with U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinkon's visit to China being canceled due to the issue. In the U.S, the Biden administration's concerns are deepening as Republican criticism and offensive intensifies.
U.S. Air Force Shoots China's 'Reconnaissance Balloon' Over East Coast
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a statement saying, "At President Biden's order this afternoon, a U.S. Northern Command fighter jet successfully shot down a high-altitude reconnaissance balloon sent and owned by China in South Carolina's coastal airspace."
A high-ranking Pentagon official explained in a briefing, "The F-22 stealth fighter jet from Langley, Virginia, shot down a balloon about 60,000 to 65,000 feet (about 18 to 20 kilometers) with one AIM-9 air-to-air missile at 2:39 p.m." CNN also reported a video of a U.S. fighter jet passing over Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, falling balloons and payloads along with explosions later in the day. Several U.S. fighter jets were seen flying over the surrounding air, and ships were also waiting at sea to collect debris. The U.S. government suspended aircraft takeoffs and landings at three airports near the east coast, including Myrtle Beach, Charleston, South Carolina, and Wilmington, North Carolina, to ensure safety before the shooting down operation.
CNN reported that the U.S. will investigate the military and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as soon as it collects the equipment inside the reconnaissance balloon. The wreckage is reportedly located at a depth of 47 feet (about 14 meters) six nautical miles (about 11 kilometers) off the coast of Myrtle Beach. The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard are using salvage ships to collect debris from scattered reconnaissance balloons.
Reconnaissance Balloons Crossed Alaska, Canada, and the U.S.
Earlier on the 28th of last month, a reconnaissance balloon believed to have been floated by China was first found in U.S. airspace. The U.S. military detected a balloon that entered the Aleutian archipelago in the western tip of Alaska and observed it. It was revealed on the 2nd that the balloon passed over Canadian airspace on the 30th of last month and returned to the U.S. and passed over Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, where the latest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) was deployed.
President Biden ordered on the 1st to "shoot down the American people under the reconnaissance balloon movement trajectory without putting them in danger." However, the Pentagon determined that shooting down while above the territory could harm a large area because of the balloon's reconnaissance equipment and waited for the reconnaissance balloon to cross the continental U.S. and reach the eastern Atlantic coast. In the end, he shot it down when it reached the coast of Myrtle Beach in the U.S. in the afternoon.
The Chinese government claims that "a civilian airship used for weather observation has lost control and entered U.S. airspace." After shooting down the reconnaissance balloon, he said, "We express strong dissatisfaction and protest against the U.S. attack on a civilian unmanned airship using force."
However, the U.S. countered that it was China's "spy balloon."
The U.S. military reportedly confirmed that the balloon was equipped with a small motor and propeller through follow-up observation while the reconnaissance balloon passed through the airspace, and that it was equipped with equipment that was not for weather observation or civilian research. The Associated Press also reported that the U.S. Department of Defense confirmed that China operates a fleet of reconnaissance balloons, and that the reconnaissance balloons were often seen not only in the U.S., but also in Europe and Asia.
In particular, as it was confirmed that another reconnaissance balloon passed over Latin America on the 3rd, China's judgment that it intentionally flew the balloons toward the U.S. was bolstered.
U.S. Republic of China Criticizes the Chinese Communist Party's Consolation
The United States is responding strongly for now. After the first U.S.-China face-to-face summit since Biden took office in Indonesia in November last year, Minister Blinkon had agreed to visit China on the 5th as a follow-up consultation. However, as the Chinese reconnaissance balloon continued to cross the mainland even after it was found, the U.S. abruptly canceled Blinken's visit to China on the 3rd, the scheduled departure date. "The balloon's presence in U.S. airspace is a clear violation of not only international law but also sovereignty," Blinken said. "It is unacceptable." China explained that it was a force majeure entry into the U.S. due to the loss of control of the airship along with the westerly wind, but protested, saying, "The U.S. overreaction by mobilizing force is a severe violation of international customs." (China's Foreign Ministry)
Public opinion in the U.S. political circle was also furious. Republican Senator Tom Cotton pointed out, "Stop pampering the Chinese Communist Party," and Senator Marco Rubio of the same party criticized, "It was a mistake not to shoot down a Chinese spy balloon over a sparsely populated area." Due to such hard-line public opinion, many predict that the Biden administration will also have no choice but to take a hard-line approach to China for the time being. [Korea Daily]