A suspected Chinese surveillance balloon in the skies over the continental United States has sparked national security concerns, adding to already tense diplomatic relations.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has responded by postponing his highly anticipated trip to China, saying Friday that the high-altitude balloon entering US airspace had “created the conditions that undermine the purpose of the trip.”
Blinken dubbed it an “irresponsible act." China, meanwhile, denies the balloon is involved in any kind of espionage, claiming it is a "civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes" that has been blown off course.
Here's what we know so far:
- Where it's headed: The balloon could exit the east coast of the United States as early as Saturday morning, based off a NOAA weather model. Two US defense officials have told CNN the balloon is expected to reach the East Coast and then pass out to sea in the southeast, near the Carolinas. US officials had said previously that the flight path of the balloon, first spotted over Montana on Thursday, could potentially take it over a “number of sensitive sites” and they were taking steps to “protect against foreign intelligence collection.”
- The US has not ruled out shooting it down: US President Joe Biden and national security team officials have discussed options including shooting the balloon down, according to a senior administration official. Earlier, the military had advised against shooting down the balloon due to the risk of falling debris, but the situation could change as the balloon moves towards the East Coast.
- About the balloon: The substructure beneath the Chinese spy balloon, believed by officials to be the steering and surveillance apparatus, is roughly the length of three city buses.
- China’s response: China claims the balloon is a civilian research vessel that has been blown off course. A spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry described the situation Saturday as an "accident." It was "entirely an unexpected situation caused by force majeure," the spokesperson said, referring to a legal term which means "great force," and out of their control.
- Second suspected spy balloon: The Pentagon said Friday evening that another Chinese spy balloon had been spotted above Latin America. It is unclear exactly where the balloon is over the continent – but a US official tells CNN it does not appear to be currently heading to the United States.
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