AIn the end everything happened very quickly. Government officials in Washington confirmed on Saturday afternoon local time that the American military shot down the suspected Chinese spy balloon over the Atlantic. The news channel CNN showed pictures of the object being shot down on the east coast. The FAA had previously instructed the airports in Wilmington, North Carolina, and Charleston, South Carolina, to cease flight operations. The Pentagon later said the balloon had been shot down by an F-22 fighter jet using an air-to-air missile. At the time of the shooting down at 2:39 a.m. it was six miles across the Atlantic off the coast of South Carolina.
The official reaction from Beijing came four hours later. It was now 7:47 a.m. on Sunday morning. The Chinese government accused the American side of an “overreaction” and a “violation of international practice”. One protests “against the use of force in the form of an attack on an unmanned civilian airship,” said a statement from the State Department. In it, the government repeated its claim that it was a “civilian airship” for scientific purposes that accidentally entered American airspace due to “force majeure”. On one point, Beijing expanded its earlier version: For the first time, there was talk of a “participating company” whose “legitimate rights and interests China would resolutely protect”. That sounded like an announcement of possible claims for damages and at the same time probably served the purpose of underlining the supposedly civilian character of the operation. Beijing said it reserves the right to “further necessary responses”.
Ballon is said to have been manoeuvrable
In Washington, the Chinese account was again clearly rejected. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said China was trying to spy on “strategic assets” in the United States. American government officials contradicted the Chinese claim that the object had limited manoeuvrability. Beijing deliberately directed the balloon over strategic locations. This can be seen from the trajectory. In addition, the object had propellers and motors that can be seen on video recordings. Recovered debris from the downed object is now to be evaluated in an FBI lab in Virginia.
President Joe Biden said after the launch that he had already given the order on Wednesday to launch the balloon as soon as possible. The Pentagon decided to wait until the balloon was over the sea. He praised the military for the successful action. At the end of last week, when the object was over the American mainland, the Pentagon initially advised the President not to shoot it down – given the danger posed by falling debris. It was later said the Pentagon was sticking to the option of bringing the balloon down once it reached the ocean. On Saturday morning, Biden had only said that the matter would be taken care of.