China says U.S. downing of spy balloon was ‘overreaction’

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China has denounced the U.S. military’s decision to fire down a suspected Chinese spy balloon that was seen flying over the country last week, The Hill reports.

The first “high-altitude surveillance balloon” to reach American airspace occurred in Alaska on January 28. It briefly entered Canadian airspace on January 30, then returned to the United States via Idaho on January 31 before continuing its cross-country journey for the remainder of the week.

“China strongly disapproves of and protests against the U.S. attack on a civilian unmanned airship by force,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement, as cited by the South China Morning Post

“The U.S.’s use of force is a clear overreaction and a serious violation of international practice,” the ministry added, noting that Beijing reserves the right to make “further responses that are necessary.”

Beijing acknowledged the balloon’s nationality on Friday, but asserted that it was primarily intended for “meteorological research and had been blown off course.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to Beijing on Friday was postponed as a result of American authorities’ insistence that the balloon was spying on “strategic installations” within the country.

“We have noted the [People’s Republic of China] statement of regret, but the presence of this balloon in our airspace is a clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law, and it is unacceptable that this has occurred,” a senior State Department official said.

In retaliation, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement released on Saturday that some lawmakers and media outlets had “hyped” the issue in an effort to “attack and slander China.”

Because of safety concerns, the U.S. military waited until Saturday afternoon to fire down the balloon while it was over ocean off the coast of South Carolina. Recovering debris and intelligence data is what they are now focused on, according to authorities.

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