China Swears ‘Civilian Airship’ Is Not a Spy Balloon

A photo of a white spy balloon in the sky over Montana.

Who would have thought that such an innocent looking balloon could be a spy.
photo: Larry Mayer (AP)

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a… Chinese spy balloon? According to China, the answer is an embarrassed “uh, no”.

China’s Foreign Ministry on Friday said a balloon spotted over Montana on Thursday was a civilian “blimp” used primarily for meteorological research and drifted wildly off course. As the balloon lands in the great sky land housing one of the nations nuclear launch facilities, China blamed the wind and the airship’s limited self-piloting capabilities. Government officials apologized for their wayward balloon.

“The Chinese side regrets the accidental incursion of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure,” the country’s foreign ministry said on Friday.

Foreign Minister Antony Blinken canceled a planned trip to Beijing amid the hubbub surrounding the balloon.

Earlier: China’s Foreign Ministry addressed the balloon incident in a daily briefing on Friday, saying it was “verifying” the situation, according to Reuters. Reports of a giant white spy balloon in sensitive airspace in Montana, home to one of the country’s three nuclear silos, captivated the Internet on Thursday. They also climbed the ladder, catching the attention of US military officials and President Joe Biden. At the briefing, the State Department did not deny that the balloon belonged to China.

Spokesman Mao Ning discouraged speculation and hype surrounding the spy balloon, urged Washington to “keep cool” and claimed China is a law-abiding country. Per the Associated PressShe noted that China hopes both sides can resolve the matter “calmly and cautiously.”

“China is a responsible country and has always strictly adhered to international laws, and China has no intention of violating the territory and airspace of any sovereign country,” Mao said.

Meanwhile, officials in the US informed Chinese diplomats that they had found the spy balloon and said the situation was serious, Reuters reported. A Biden administration official told NBC News that the government would trust the spy balloon belonged to China.

Despite all the excitement surrounding the spy balloon, it doesn’t appear to have been very effective. A US official told Reuters that the spy balloon had “limited value from an intelligence survey perspective.”

It’s not clear what will happen to China’s alleged spy balloon after its cover is blown. Senior defense and military officials recommended that Biden not shoot down the balloon because of the potential safety risks to the public from the debris. The AP reported that Biden accepted the recommendation.

Updated 2/3/2023 9:53am ET: This post has been updated with additional information from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. China Swears ‘Civilian Airship’ Is Not a Spy Balloon

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