The Chinese government has accused the US for “an obvious overreaction” after fighter jets downed its spy balloon over the Atlantic Ocean.
“For the US to insist on using armed force is clearly an overreaction that seriously violates international practice,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement.
Beijing also threatened that it “reserved the right to take further actions in response” without specifying what it might do.
China has continually denied allegations that the balloon served any surveillance or espionage purposes, instead saying it was a weather research “airship” that had blown off course due to “force majeure”.
Chinese state media echoed that stance, although coverage of the incident has been scarce, despite dominating world headlines this past week.
One piece in the Global Times, a Communist Party mouthpiece, highlights China’s stance – that a weather research “airship” had simply blown off course.
The balloon has sparked a diplomatic firestorm, with Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, cancelling a two-day visit to China that was due to begin on Sunday over concerns that meetings would be unproductive and overshadowed by the incident.
Mr Blinken would have been the highest-ranking official to visit China since Joe Biden became president, and the first secretary of state to visit in more than four years.
Beijing, however, sought to minimise the cancellation, repeatedly highlighting that the visit had not been officially confirmed, likely a way to smooth over embarrassment as Mr Blinken was expected to meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
“In actuality the US and China have never announced any visit; the US making any such announcement is their own business, and we respect that,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
This was echoed several times in state media, with the Global Times repeating several times that there was “no confirmation from China on Blinken’s visit”.
“Before being clear of the facts, the US military and media accused China of spying, and this balloon incident has taken US’ hyping of the ‘China threat’ to a new level.”
China has used the balloon to turn the tables – sending a surveillance balloon over the US was a brazen move in the days ahead of Mr Blinken’s visit.
But now, Beijing is accusing the US for using it as an excuse to escalate bilateral tensions, protesting the use of force “to attack civilian unmanned airships”.
Comments on Chinese social media – heavily censored by the government – also follow the government’s line, with a number of posts ridiculing the US for stressing over a balloon.
One person joked that if the US is willing to shoot down a balloon with missiles, then it better try to catch radiation leaking into the water from Japan with fishing nets.
Government officials in Taiwan, an island with its own democratic government, military and currency that China claims its own, said that similar balloons were spotted in Japan in June 2020, and twice in Taipei in the previous two years, hovering for a few hours in the area.
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