High-altitude surveillance balloons have been spotted by US and Canadian authorities over their respective territories.
The first balloon was spotted in the US over sensitive American national security installations, including the Malmstrom Air Force Base. 150 nuclear-armed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles are located at the base.
The Pentagon claims the balloon belongs to China. Beijing has not taken responsibility but says that it’s looking into the allegations and that the claim should be handled “calmly and carefully”.
F-22 fighters were scrambled from Nellis Air Force Base but the administration decided against shooting the balloon down over concerns about the potential damage from falling debris.
The US administration says that steps were taken on the ground to shield the sensitive installations but that reconnaissance systems on the balloon were assessed as likely to have “limited additive value” beyond what the Chinese could gather from their low-earth-orbit satellites.
Canadian authorities have also detected a surveillance balloon over their own territory.
In a statement, the Canadian Armed Forces wrote:
“A high-altitude surveillance balloon was detected and its movements are being actively tracked by NORAD.
Canadians are safe and Canada is taking steps to ensure the security of its airspace, including the monitoring of a potential second incident.
NORAD, the Canadian Armed Forces, the Department of National Defence, and other partners have been assessing the situation and working in close coordination.
Canada’s intelligence agencies are working with American partners and continue to take all necessary measures to safeguard Canada’s sensitive information from foreign intelligence threats.
We remain in frequent contact with our American allies as the situation develops.”
Canadian authorities are yet to attribute the surveillance balloon spotted over its territory to any country.
The surveillance balloons have been spotted just days before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was to make a trip to Beijing. Many hoped that Blinken’s trip would be the start of an improvement in relations between the world powers.
As of writing, the US State Department has not commented on whether Blinken’s trip will go ahead as planned. The department has summoned China’s chargé d’affaires in Washington, Xu Xueyuan, “to deliver a very clear and stark message” about the incident.
Update: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has postponed his upcoming trip to Beijing in response to the flying of a Chinese spy balloon over the US. China claims the balloon is for “meteorological and other scientific research”.
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