4/4

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Printed balloons with Chinese flag are placed on U.S. flag in the shape of U.S. map outline, in this illustration taken February 5, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

2/4

By Trevor Hunnicutt and Martin Quin Pollard

WASHINGTON/BEIJING (Reuters) – Washington and Beijing traded accusations about alleged spy balloons on Monday as the United States and Canada scrambled to explain the three other objects the U.S. military shot down over North American airspace during the weekend.

China widened its dispute with the United States on Monday, claiming that U.S. high-altitude balloons had flown over its airspace without permission more than 10 times since the beginning of 2022. The White House promptly denied it.

The new claim came as American and Canadian officials struggled to explain the origin of three additional objects U.S. fighter jets downed over North American airspace since Feb. 4, when a Chinese balloon was downed off the South Carolina coast after drifting across the United States.

Washington called that a surveillance balloon, while China has insisted it was a weather-monitoring craft blown badly off course. The incident prompted U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel his scheduled trip to Beijing last week.

On Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that 10 U.S. balloon flights last year were illegal, but did not describe the balloons as military or for espionage purposes.

A White House spokeswoman denied it, and accused China of violating the sovereignty of the United States and more than 40 other countries across five continents with surveillance balloons linked to its military.

“This is the latest example of China scrambling to do damage control,” White House National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement.

“It has repeatedly and wrongly claimed the surveillance balloon it sent over the United States was a weather balloon and to this day has failed to offer any credible explanations for its intrusion into our airspace and the airspace of others.”

U.S. military fighter jets on Sunday downed an octagonal object over Lake Huron, the Pentagon said. On Friday, an object was shot down over sea ice near Deadhorse, Alaska, and a third object, cylindrical in shape, was destroyed over Canada’s Yukon on Saturday, with investigators still hunting for the wreckage.

The U.S. military has not been able to identify what the three most recent objects are, how they stay aloft, or where they are coming from, Air Force General Glen VanHerck, head of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), said on Sunday. They do not resemble balloons, he said.

GRAPHIC : Mysterious objects shot down by U.S. military – https://www.reuters.com/graphics/USA-OBJECTS/zdpxdnwmkpx/chart_eikon.jpg

The three objects were flying at altitudes that could have posed a risk to air traffic, officials have said. The device hit on Sunday might have had surveillance capabilities, the Pentagon spokesman said.

China said it had no information about any of the three objects.

White House spokesman John Kirby (NYSE:) said there could be “completely benign and totally explainable reasons” for the three objects, and that corporate or academic research institutions can use devices that reach high altitudes. “We just don’t know,” he said told MSNBC in an interview Monday morning.

SEARCHING FOR DEBRIS

In Canada’s Yukon province, the search for debris continued Monday, two days after the object discovered in Canadian airspace was shot down, Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand said in an interview with CNN. Analysts from Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation will be involved in the analysis, she said.

“We are still in the process of locating the debris and we will move to locate it and analyze it,” she said. “We know that it was shot down over central Yukon. We have teams on the ground and in the air making sure that we are able to locate and analyze that debris.”

Choppy waters on Lake Huron have hampered recovery efforts, U.S. Representative Elissa Slotkin, who represents central Michigan, during a news conference on Monday.

“I have no reason to believe that this is an UFO,” she said.

VanHerck said he would not rule out aliens or any other explanation, but another defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, subsequently said there was no evidence that the objects were extraterrestrial.



Source link