China alleged that the US had flown 10 high-altitude balloons through its airspace since the start of 2022 without its permission, after Washington accused Beijing of operating a fleet of surveillance balloons around the world.
The Chinese allegation comes after the US shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon that had crossed from Alaska to South Carolina. This had triggered a new crisis in bilateral relations, which have slumped to their lowest level in decades. It is the first time that China has made such an accusation, said international reports.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin, however, did not elaborate and give more details about the alleged US balloons, and how they had been dealt with or whether they had government or military links.
But, at a daily briefing, Wang said, “It is also common for US balloons to illegally enter the airspace of other countries.” Further, he added that since last year, US high-altitude balloons have illegally flown over China’s airspace more than 10 times without the approval of Chinese authorities.
“The first thing the US needs to do is change its ways and reflect on itself, and not to smear and incite confrontation,” Wang told reporters.
Also read: US shoots down Chinese spy balloon; Beijing threatens of repercussions
China has repeatedly said that the US over-reacted by shooting down the Chinese balloon, which the foreign ministry has described as a civilian balloon, an unmanned airship, for weather research that blew off course. China has threatened to take unspecified action in response.
US officials however reject this explanation and say they are confident the balloon was for surveillance purposes and that it flew over multiple sensitive sites in the US.
Following the incident, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken cancelled a visit to Beijing that many had hoped would stem the sharp decline in relations over Taiwan, trade, human rights and threatening Chinese actions in the disputed South China Sea.
Also read: Chinese ‘spy balloon’ may remain in US skies for a while; Blinken cancels trip
China targets a Philippine coast guard vessel
On Monday, the Philippines accused a Chinese coast guard ship of targeting a Philippine coast guard vessel, with a military-grade laser and temporarily blinding some of its crew in the South China Sea. They termed it as a blatant violation of Manila’s sovereign rights.
Wang said a Philippine coast guard vessel had trespassed into Chinese waters without permission on February 6 and that Chinese coast guard vessels responded “professionally and with restraint”.
China claims virtually all of the strategic waterway and has been steadily building up its maritime forces and island outposts.
China and the Philippines are maintaining communication through diplomatic channels in this regard, Wang said. China’s defense ministry did not immediately respond to a question about the incident.
Also read: US fighter jets shoot down high-altitude airborne object in Canada
US shoots down three additional unidentified objects
Meanwhile, on Sunday, a US fighter jet shot down an unidentified object over Lake Huron, on orders from President Joe Biden. It was the fourth such downing in the past eight days related to events over US airspace that Pentagon officials believe has no peacetime precedent. Asked about these objects on Monday, Wang declined to say whether any of them were from China.
The Chinese balloon shot down by the US was equipped to detect and collect intelligence signals, as part of a huge, military-linked aerial surveillance programme that targeted more than 40 countries, the Biden administration declared on Thursday. They cited imagery from American U-2 spy planes.
The reason for the repeated shootdowns is partly due to a heightened alert following the alleged Chinese spy balloon, Gen Glen VanHerck, head of NORAD and the US Northern Command, told reporters.
The United States has since placed economic restrictions on six Chinese entities it said are linked to Beijing’s aerospace programmes as part of its response to the incident.
The US House of Representatives also voted unanimously to condemn China for a brazen violation of US sovereignty and efforts to deceive the international community through false claims about its intelligence collection campaigns.
Wang, the Chinese spokesperson, repeated China’s dismissal of such claims, saying, the frequent firing of advanced missiles by the US to shoot down the objects, is an over-reaction of over-exertion.
(with agency inputs)