China accuses U.S. of ‘information warfare’ over balloon shot down off South Carolina
China on Thursday said U.S. accusations that a downed Chinese balloon was part of an extensive surveillance program amount to “information warfare against China.”
Beijing’s riposte came a day after the Pentagon said the Chinese balloon shot down off the South Carolina coast Saturday was part of a program involving a number of such airships that China has been operating for “several years.”
At a news briefing Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning repeated China’s insistence that the large unmanned balloon was a civilian meteorological airship that had been blown off course and that the U.S. had “overreacted” by shooting it down.
“It is irresponsible,” Mao said, adding that the latest accusations “may be part of the U.S. side’s information warfare against China.”
China’s defense minister refused to take a phone call from U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III to discuss the balloon issue Saturday, the Pentagon said, and China has not answered questions as to what government department or company the balloon belonged to or how it planned to follow up on a pledge to take further action over the matter.
U.S. officials have dismissed China’s claims, and agents from the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service are cataloging debris recovered from the ocean and transporting it for further processing.
The Pentagon says the Chinese balloon shot down off the South Carolina coast was part of a large surveillance program that China has been conducting for ‘several years.’
When similar balloons passed over U.S. territory on four occasions during the Trump and Biden administrations, the U.S. did not immediately identify them as Chinese surveillance balloons, said Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary.
But he said “subsequent intelligence analysis” allowed the U.S. to confirm that they were part of a Chinese spying effort and to learn “a lot more” about the program.
“I can assure you this was not for civilian purposes. ... We are 100% clear about that,” Ryder said.
Top administration officials were briefing members of Congress on the Chinese balloon surveillance program in classified sessions Wednesday and Thursday.
Republican lawmakers are accusing China of deliberately surveilling sensitive U.S. military sites with a suspected spy balloon.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken canceled a visit to Beijing planned for this week in the wake of the incident, dealing a setback to efforts at arresting a further deterioration of Sino-U.S. relations, which are at their lowest level in decades.
He said the U.S. has briefed dozens of countries on the program, which officials said has been active over five continents.
“The United States was not the only target,” Blinken said at a news conference with visiting NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg.
Blinken said he and Stoltenberg had spoken about the “systemic and tactical challenges” that China poses to the alliance and the importance of combating them.
With China’s tone sharpening over the balloon incident, it wasn’t clear when Blinken’s visit might be rescheduled.
Despite that, China’s Commerce Ministry said Thursday that it welcomed a proposed visit by U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, saying, “It’s very important for both sides to maintain normal communication.”
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