Pentagon on the watch for Chinese high-altitude balloon

Photo credit: Reuters

Since it has been seen over American airspace for a few days, the United States has been watching a possible Chinese surveillance balloon. However, the Pentagon opted against shooting it down due to worries that doing so may harm civilians on the ground, officials said on Thursday. At a time when tensions are already high, the finding of the balloon strains U.S.-China ties even more, AP reported.

Reporters from the Pentagon were informed by a senior defense official that the U.S. had “very high confidence” that the object was a Chinese high-altitude balloon that was flying over key locations to gather intelligence. The nation’s third nuclear missile silo field, located at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, is one of the areas where the balloon was sighted.

“The United States government has detected and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now,” Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Patrick Ryder told reporters. “The balloon is currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.”

Similar balloon activity, according to him, has been seen over a number of years. He continued by saying that the US took precautions to guarantee that sensitive data was not collected.

One of the sources told reporters under the condition of anonymity that the United States had taken “custody” of the balloon when it entered American territory and had been watching it with manned military planes, Reuters reported.

Without providing any other information, Canada’s military ministry said it had discovered a “high-altitude observation balloon” and was keeping an eye on a “potential second incident.” It also claimed it was in constant touch with the US.

According to Mao Ning, a spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry, Beijing was “verifying” the circumstance.

“I would like to emphasize that until the facts are clarified, speculation and hype will not be helpful to the proper resolution of the issue,” Mao said. “China has no intention of violating the land territory and airspace of any sovereign country.”

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