The Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed protest after the United States Military shot down a Chinese balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday.
“China expresses strong protest over the use of force and the US attack on the civilian unmanned airship,” a foreign ministry spokesperson said in a Sunday (Beijing time) statement.
The foreign ministry spokesperson also stated that the United State’s reaction was “excessive and seriously violates international practice.”
The United States claims that the unmanned balloon was a spy aircraft. China insists that the airship was a civilian craft engaged in scientific research that was blown off course by high winds.
The balloon was first spotted near Alaska before traveling over Canada and eventually the lower 48 of the United States. The United States delayed shooting down the craft for several days, saying it was too dangerous to do over land. Once the balloon floated off the coast, President Biden ordered it shot down.
After its destruction, officials gathered the debris for study. A Pentagon spokesperson told reporters that they had no doubt that the craft was used for surveillance. The spokesman also gave details about the operation, saying the United States used F-22 fighter jets and downed the balloon using an AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile.
US officials also admitted Saturday that similar balloons flew over the United States at least three times during the Trump administration and once earlier in the Biden administration. It is not clear what required this balloon’s destruction. Unlike previous balloons, this one was known to the public and stayed over the United States for several days. US officials said the previous incidents lasted a shorter period of time.
Tensions between China and the United States have been intensifying over the past year. In December, a US reconnaissance plane, colloquially known as a spy plane, was intercepted by a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea.
In 2021, the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative said it found a “sharp increase in the intensity and frequency” of aerial reconnaissance operations in the area.