Biden admin prepares to shoot down Chinese spy balloon and restricts airspace over Carolina Coast
The Biden administration is going ahead with a plan to shoot down the Chinese balloon over the Atlantic, officials have said.
This comes as the airspace along the coast of North and South Carolina has been closed amid the expected national security operation.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press that President Joe Biden has given the green light for the operation to go ahead.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a ground stop affecting three airports in North and South Carolina as the balloon drifts through its airspace, a spokesperson has said.
“The FAA has paused departures to Wilmington (ILM), Myrtle Beach International (MYR) and Charleston International (CHS) airports to support the Department of Defense in a national security effort,” the statement said.
The US Coast Guard has told mariners to leave the area because national security operations “that present a significant hazard”.
The balloon is suspected of conducting spying activities on the US military.
Four US officials have said the plan is to bring it down over the ocean to recover remnants of the balloon, the Associated Press reported.
Planes were seen circling the balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on Saturday afternoon.
Mr Biden said earlier on Saturday that the US will “take care of” the Chinese spy balloon.
Mr Biden was answering a question from a reporter while getting into his car at an airfield in Syracuse, New York, where the president was visiting members of his family.
He was asked by CNN if the US would shoot down the balloon.
“We’re gonna take care of it,” the president said.
Mr Biden has been looking at options with military leaders since his initial briefing on the balloon on Tuesday.
Advisers warned against shooting it down over land as debris may injure people or damage homes. Military leaders said the risk to people on the ground weighed heavier than any possible intelligence gained by China.
Many users of Chinese social media appeared to agree with the Chinese government’s stance that the US was overhyping the situation.
Many account holders joked about the spy balloon, and others suggested that since the US has placed restrictions on the kinds of technology China can purchase, they were unable to control the balloon, the Associated Press reported.
Some users referred to it as the “wandering balloon” in reference to the recently released Chinese sci-fi movie The Wandering Earth 2.
Some mocked the US for being unable to stop a balloon from entering its airspace. A number of nationalist influences used the story to make fun of the US.
“The U.S., because of the balloon incident, delays Blinken’s visit to China,” one wrote.
Censorship was quickly put in place, with the “wandering balloon” hashtag on the social media platform Weibo not being searchable by Saturday night.
Chinese military expert Chen Haoyang appeared on one of the largest TV channels in the country, Phoenix TV, to push back against the US reaction to the discovery of the Chinese spy balloon in US airspace.
“The U.S. is hyping this as a national security threat posed by China to the U.S. This type of military threat, in actuality, we haven’t done this. And compared with the U.S. military threat normally aimed at us, can you say it’s just little? Their surveillance planes, their submarines, their naval ships are all coming near our borders,” the expert said, according to the Associated Press.
The top Chinese diplomat, Wang Yi, said on Saturday that China “has always strictly followed international law”.
He added that “we do not accept any groundless speculation and hype. Faced with unexpected situations, both parties need to keep calm, communicate in a timely manner, avoid misjudgments and manage differences”.
He said the balloon’s path was out of China’s control and he urged the US not to “smear” the country based on the recent events.
China has said that it “regretted” that the balloon unintentionally entered US airspace.
An associate professor at the National University of Singapore, Alfred Wu, said the apology appeared insincere.
“In the meantime, the relationship will not improve in the near future ... the gap is huge,” he said, according to the Associated Press.
China is downplaying the cancelled visit of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken amid the fallout of the discovery of a Chinese spy balloon over US airspace.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Saturday that “in actuality, the U.S. and China have never announced any visit, the U.S. making any such announcement is their own business, and we respect that”.
Mr Blinken was set to visit China on Sunday for discussions focused on reducing the tensions between the two countries. It would have been the first trip of a top diplomat following the meeting of Presidents Xi Jinping and Joe Biden in Indonesia in November.