WASHINGTON — The United States shot down a Chinese spy balloon on Saturday that spent the last week traversing the country, American officials said, an explosive end to a film that brought the crisis to life. diplomatic crisis between the two world powers on television screens in real time .
The balloon, which spent five days traveling diagonally southeast from Idaho to the Carolinas, moved off the coast at midday Saturday and crossed the Atlantic. The Federal Aviation Administration has halted departures and arrivals at airports in Wilmington, NC, and at Myrtle Beach and Charleston in South Carolina, which the agency said is intended to “support the Department of Defense in its efforts.” national security”.
President Biden hinted at the move earlier on Saturday. “We’ll take care of that,” Biden told reporters in Syracuse, NY, where he was visiting family members following the death of his brother-in-law.
The president has been discussing military options with the Pentagon since Tuesday, when he was alerted by the Pentagon that a spy balloon had entered continental US airspace near Idaho. By Wednesday, the balloon was hovering over Montana and a full-blown diplomatic crisis was brewing.
At the time, military leaders advised against shooting down a balloon with an abdominal structure roughly the size of three buses, because of the potential for harm to civilians and infrastructure while it was in the air. on land. But the arrival — and extended stay — of the hot air balloon over American territory prompted angry senior U.S. officials to call their Chinese counterparts, and cancel the planned visit. by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken to China.
That trip was supposed to be the first trip by a Biden Cabinet secretary to China.
China’s Foreign Ministry said the balloon was a civilian machine that had accidentally entered US airspace, and asserted that it was a weather balloon that had strayed far – far away – in the wrong direction. But Mr. Blinken said the case was a “a clear violation of US sovereignty and international law.”
American officials have repeatedly communicated to Chinese officials in recent days that the US military can shoot down spy balloons. Blinken told a Chinese diplomat in Washington on Wednesday night that the US government has the right to take any action to protect its interests, and he said the same thing in a phone call on Wednesday. Six with Wang Yi, China’s top foreign policy official. , a senior administration official said.
The Chinese spy balloon began a controlled drift into U.S. territory on January 28 when it entered Alaskan airspace near the Aleutian Islands, at first by trackers at U.S. Northern Command. Ky appears to be just one of several other Chinese light probes around the US border. defensive border.
It happened before. Defense officials say China has spy balloons orbiting the world at 60,000 feet at any given time, and the balloons occasionally stray into US territory. Defense officials say spy balloons from China and other adversaries are sometimes classified by the Pentagon as an unidentified aerial phenomenon, the same category as UFOs.
But this balloon stayed. Although it left US territory on Monday, officials said, carrying solar panels for propulsion, cameras and surveillance equipment, it returned the next day. It entered the continental United States via Idaho, much to the surprise of officials at Northern Command as well as at the Pentagon.
General Mark A. Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned Mr. Biden. The president asked for military options.
By Wednesday, the hot air balloon had taken to the sky above Billings, Mont., which had alarmed Pentagon officials because the state is home to the 341st Rocket Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, a of the three bases of the United States Air Force that operate and maintain intercontinental. ballistic missile. A Pentagon official described shock at what officials see as a blatant and poorly concealed espionage effort. A White House official called the move “bold”.
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III convened a meeting on Wednesday with senior defense and military officials to consider options, at the behest of Mr. Biden. Generals Milley and Mr. Austin advised against shooting down the balloon while it was on land.
Zolan Kanno-Youngs Contribution report from Syracuse, NY