The United States and China are engaged in diplomatic sparring following the shooting down of a Chinese surveillance balloon over the Atlantic Ocean last Saturday. The incident has sparked outrage from the Chinese government, which has asked for the return of the wreckage.
China is calling for the U.S. to handle such incidents calmly and professionally, claiming that the balloon was a civilian aircraft and posed no threat to the U.S.
During a press conference on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said that the U.S. overreacted by shooting down the balloon and called for the return of its wreckage. “The airship is not American property. It is Chinese property,” she said.
However, Mao declined to answer questions regarding the purpose of the balloon and reports of similar aircraft flying in and near U.S. airspace.
According to U.S. authorities, the balloon was carrying a large payload, including surveillance technology, which was enough to fill three coach buses. The U.S. shot down the balloon after tracking it for days as it passed near critical military assets, including nuclear launchers and the U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
In response, the Pentagon said they had “acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information.” Meanwhile, a planned trip to China by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been indefinitely postponed.
Mao expressed concern that media reports characterizing the balloon as a Chinese threat are further straining U.S.-Chinese relations. “I would also like to stress that exaggerating or hyping up the ‘China threat’ narrative is not conducive to building trust or improving ties between our two countries, nor can it make the U.S. safer,” Mao said.
In Joe Biden’s State of the Union address Tuesday evening, he expressed his hope for “competition” with China but warned that “if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country.”
In response, Mao said, “A healthy and stable China-US relationship is in the fundamental interest of both peoples and meets the shared expectations of the international community. On China’s part, we will handle China-U.S. relations in accordance with the three principles of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, and win-win cooperation.”
International and U.S. observers are now awaiting Biden’s move in response to the Chinese demands.