The appearance of a suspected Chinese spy balloon over US territory causes serious diplomatic complications. As several US media reports, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a trip to China because of the balloon. Blinken was originally expected for a two-day visit to Beijing on Sunday, becoming the first US Secretary of State in several years. Relations between the two countries have been strained for a long time.
The alleged spy balloon incident comes at a time of rising tensions between the two great powers. The US military has no doubt that this is indeed a Chinese espionage operation. The Department of Defense in Washington reported that it was considering shooting down the balloon. Only on Friday, after a long hesitation, did China admit that it was a Chinese flying object – but that it was only used for scientific purposes and had accidentally deviated from its trajectory. The Foreign Ministry in Beijing also expressed regret.
According to the Pentagon, the balloon was spotted over the northwestern US state of Montana on Wednesday. A few days ago he entered US airspace. Its trajectory will be followed closely. A senior Defense Department official said Department Chief Lloyd Austin had therefore rounded up the Pentagon's leadership team. President Joe Biden was also informed and requested military options.
Launching the balloon was considered, the official said. F-22 fighter jets were also provisionally put on standby and air traffic in Montana's largest city, Billings, was temporarily suspended. Because of the danger of falling debris, the decision was ultimately made not to destroy the balloon. However, various precautions have been taken to protect sensitive information.
According to the Wall Street Journal, 150 Minuteman III ICBMs armed with nuclear warheads are stored at a US Air Force base in Montana. However, the spy systems of a balloon only provide "limited added value" compared to information that China can collect with satellites.
"We are currently assuming that this balloon only has a limited additional benefit for gathering information," the Pentagon said. Similar incidents have happened in the past. This time, however, the balloon stayed longer than usual over the United States.