China has stated that it “reserves the right” to deal with “similar situations” in the aftermath of the United States’ decision to fire down its high-altitude balloon.
“The United States utilised force to strike our civilian unmanned airship, which was clearly an overreaction. “We voice severe protest over this move by the US side,” said Tan Kefei, a spokesperson for China’s Defense Ministry, in a statement issued on Sunday afternoon local time.
China “reserves the right to use whatever actions are necessary to deal with such situations,” he stressed.
China’s Foreign Ministry had earlier on Sunday accused the United States of “overreacting” and “seriously breaking international practise” after US military fighter aircraft shot down the balloon over the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday, a mission President Joe Biden hailed as successful.
The US suspects the balloon was used for espionage, but China claims it was a civilian research vessel that was blown off course.
“The Chinese side has repeatedly told the US side after verification that the blimp is for civilian use and entered the US due to force majeure – it was absolutely an accident,” according to a statement issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
The term “Force Majeure” refers to “increased force” in law. It releases a party from liability if an unanticipated incident, such as a natural disaster, prevents it from carrying out its contractual responsibilities.
“China plainly asked the US to handle it correctly in a calm, professional and restrained manner. The balloon will not constitute a military or personal threat to ground people, according to a spokeswoman for the US Department of Defense,” the ministry’s statement added.
“China will steadfastly protect the legitimate rights and interests of relevant firms, while reserving the right to take any additional necessary action,” the foreign ministry added.
The chief of the country’s weather office was dismissed of his duties on Saturday, according to Chinese state media, in a move interpreted by some observers as an attempt to bolster Beijing’s argument that the high-altitude balloon was primarily for meteorological purposes.
Zhuang Guotai was the head of the China Meteorological Administration until Friday, although his departure was not surprising. Zhuang was elected as the head of the western Gansu province’s People’s Political Consultative Committee, the provincial political advisory body, in late January.
US officials have rebuffed China’s repeated assurances that the dropped balloon was only for civilian use and had entered American airspace by “chance.”
“This was a surveillance balloon from the PRC (People’s Republic of China). “We are convinced that this surveillance balloon was intended to monitor critical military facilities,” a senior US government official said.
According to the official, a second balloon seen over Central and South America was “another PRC surveillance balloon” with comparable technological characteristics to the one seen over the United States.
“Both balloons also include surveillance equipment not normally linked with conventional meteorological activities or civilian research,” according to the official. “A notable aspect of both balloons is collection pod equipment and solar panels mounted on the metal truss dangling below the balloon.”
Officials from the Pentagon stated earlier this week that the balloon presented no “military or physical” threat. Due to the potential of falling debris injuring a civilian, the US decided against shooting down the balloon while it was still over land and instead waited until it was over the ocean.
The US military will now concentrate on debris recovery.
The incident is the latest in a string of espionage allegations that has sparked a diplomatic crisis between Beijing and Washington.
Taiwan expresses its opinion
Taiwanese authorities, however, declared on Sunday that the Chinese balloon incident “should not be condoned by the civilised international community.”
Similar balloons have overflied the self-governed island, which China claims as part of its territory despite never having held it.
“Such actions by the Chinese Communist Party government violate international law, breach other countries’ airspace, and violate their sovereignty,” Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement, urging China to “immediately cease conduct of this kind that encroaches on other countries and causes regional instability.”
Balloons thought to be used for “meteorological observations” were seen flying over the island. According to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense, this will happen in September 2021 and February 2022.
However, it is unclear whether those balloons were the same as the one shot down by US fighter jets on Saturday.