The US Pentagon announced on Friday that it had detected a Chinese spy balloon flying over the central United States. The US rejected China's claim that the balloon was a weather research airship and described it as a surveillance vehicle. Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, stated that the balloon was at an altitude of 60,000 feet, was maneuverable and posed no threat at the moment. The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a planned trip to China in response to the discovery of the balloon.
The balloon was spotted over Montana, which is home to one of America's nuclear missile silo fields. The US prepared fighter jets, including F-22s, to shoot down the balloon, but ultimately decided against it due to the potential risks to people on the ground. China expressed regret for the balloon's entry into US airspace and said it was a civilian airship used mainly for meteorological research.
The discovery of the balloon caused alarm in the US and attracted criticism from Republicans who advocated for a tougher stance with China. President Biden declined to comment, but two potential 2024 reelection challengers, former President Donald Trump and former South Carolina Governor and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, called for the balloon to be shot down.
The Blinken trip, which was agreed to in November by President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, was seen as a way to find common ground on major disagreements between the two countries, including human rights, trade policy, and climate change. However, the trip was postponed as the Biden administration weighed a broader response to the discovery of the balloon.