China threatens ‘further actions’ after US shoots down spy balloon
China has hit out at the US and warned of further “actions” after the American military shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the South Carolina coast.
In a statement on Sunday, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: “China will resolutely uphold the relevant company’s legitimate rights and interests, and at the same time reserving the right to take further actions in response.
“China had clearly asked the US to handle this properly in a calm, professional and restrained manner,” it added.
“The US had insisted on using force, obviously overreacting.”
“China strongly disapproves of and protests against the US attack on a civilian unmanned airship by force,” the foreign ministry added on Sunday, according to the South China Morning Post.
“The US’s use of force is a clear overreaction and a serious violation of international practice,” the ministry said, adding that China has the right to make “further responses that are necessary”.
The balloon was first spotted by members of the public on Thursday as it flew over Montana, which is home to one of America’s three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base.
On Saturday, president Joe Biden said that he was informed of the balloon’s presence a day earlier, though this was not disclosed at the time.
“On Wednesday, when I was briefed on the balloon, I ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down, on Wednesday, as soon as possible,” he said.
The decision was taken not to shoot down the balloon while it was over land, due to the risk of falling debris harming people on the ground.
Pentagon officials say an F-22 fighter jet fired a missile at the balloon at 2.40pm EST (7.40pm GMT) on Saturday, puncturing it while it was off the coast near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The Navy is taking the lead in an operation to recover the remnants.
“They successfully took it down and I want to complement our aviators who did it,” Mr Biden said after getting off Air Force One on his way to Camp David, reported Associated Press.
Also on Saturday, defence secretary Lloyd Austin said that the balloon was taken down on the president’s authorisation “without undue risk to American lives.”
Earlier China had said that the balloon was a weather research “airship” that had been blown off course.
It had also accused US officials of “hyping” the incident after secretary of state Antony Blinken abruptly cancelled his Beijing trip, which was due to take place this Sunday.
Top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi said earlier – before the balloon was shot out of the sky – that China “has always strictly followed international law”.
He said that “we do not accept any groundless speculation and hype. Faced with unexpected situations, both parties need to keep calm, communicate in a timely manner, avoid misjudgments and manage differences”.
Mr Blinken’s trip, which had been agreed upon in November, was seen as crucial to stabilising the fraught relations between the US and China. On Saturday, after Mr Blinken called off the trip, Mr Wang claimed that it had never formally been confirmed anyway.
Additional reporting by agencies