US denies Chinese claims it has sent balloons over Asian nation
(Update 2: Changes headline, updates lede, adds US denial, adds dateline)
Washington/Beijing, Feb 13 (EFE).- The United States on Monday denied Chinese claims that it had sent high altitude balloons over the Asian nation amid an ongoing spat between the two world powers over alleged surveillance.
National security council coordinator John Kirby told MSNBC news that the claims from Beijing were “absolutely not true.”
“We are not flying balloons over China,” he added.
His remarks came hours after Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin claimed the US has sent balloons over China at least 10 times in the last year.
“The first thing the US side should do is to look at itself, to change its ways, not to smear and incite confrontation,” Wang added as tensions grew in the wake of Washington’s decision to shoot down an alleged Chinese spy balloon on February 4.
Wang accused the US of abusing its “technological advantages to carry out large-scale and indiscriminate wiretapping and theft of secrets from all over the world, including from its allies.”
The remarks from the Chinese foreign ministry came after state media said that local maritime authorities in China’s eastern Shandong Province had detected an unidentified object in the country’s airspace.
The maritime development authority of Qingdao’s Jimo district announced the sighting of an unidentified object flying over waters near Rizhao on Sunday, official newspaper The Paper reported.
The “relevant authorities” are preparing to shoot it down, the newspaper added.
Fishermen in the area have been notified by text message, The Paper said.
So far, no information has been provided on the nature of the objects or whether they were destroyed.
Unverified videos circulating on Chinese social media show a row of bright dots in the sky over a coastal area.
The foreign ministry spokesman said he had no information about three other flying objects shot down over North America in recent days.
On Sunday, Melissa Dalton, the US assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and hemispheric affairs, said in a telephone press appearance that both the object shot down that afternoon over Lake Huron, Michigan, as well as the two in Canada and Alaska in previous days, were destroyed as a precaution and that there has been no collateral damage in any of the operations.
The US defense department has increased surveillance of its airspace since spotting and shooting down the Chinese balloon earlier this month.
Beijing has maintained that the balloon the US military shot down on civilian airship that had deviated from its original route.
US intelligence officials, however, say the airship is part of an extensive Chinese surveillance program to collect information on military assets in several countries and was operated by China’s armed forces, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
The surveillance balloons, which have operated for several years from Hainan province, off China’s southern coast, have collected information on military assets in countries and areas of emerging strategic interest to China, including Japan, India, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines, according to US intelligence.EFE