A Chinese balloon suspected of conducting surveillance on US military sites has been shot down above the Atlantic Ocean.
According to the AP news agency, footage showed the balloon falling to the sea after a small explosion.
Security officials, speaking under condition of anonymity, claimed the US President had given the “go-ahead” to shoot down the balloon over the Atlantic Ocean where the remnants could potentially be recovered.
The balloon, which has heightened tensions with China, worried defence officials who feared the debris could injure Americans below.
Michael McCaul, the Republican chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, demanded to know why the administration had not shot the balloon down, accusing the president of allowing it to pose “a direct and ongoing national security threat to the U.S. homeland.”
Daniel Russel, the top U.S. diplomat for Asia under then-President Barack Obama, said China’s “laughable alibi” that the aircraft was an errant weather balloon, didn’t help.
It came as China played down the cancellation of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken for talks aimed at reducing U.S.-China tensions saying that neither side had formally announced any such plan.
“In actuality, the U.S. and China have never announced any visit, the U.S. making any such announcement is their own business, and we respect that,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Saturday morning.
Blinken was due to visit Beijing on Sunday, the first such high-profile trip after the countries’ leaders met last November in Indonesia. But the US abruptly cancelled the trip after the discovery of the huge balloon despite China’s claim that it was merely a weather research “airship” that had blown off course.
The Pentagon rejected that out of hand — as well as China’s contention that the balloon was not being used for surveillance and had only limited navigational ability.
Uncensored reactions on the Chinese internet mirrored the official government stance that the US was hyping up the situation.