China: ‘No intention’ of violating U.S. airspace after spy balloon spotted

Last updated on February 3, 2023

Beijing said it is looking into reports that a Chinese spy balloon is hovering over the western United States, causing the Air Force to scramble fighter jets and prompting lawmakers to demand briefings over the Biden administration’s handling of the incident.

“China is a responsible country,” Mao Ning, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said in a Friday press briefing. “It has always strictly abided by international law and has no intention of violating the territory and airspace of any sovereign country. As I said just now, we are learning about the verification situation and hope that both sides can handle it calmly and cautiously.”

The Pentagon assessed it had “very high confidence” the balloon was Chinese and had been sent to the U.S. to collect sensitive information.

A senior Defense Department official told reporters Thursday that the U.S. prepared fighter jets to shoot down the balloon, but senior Pentagon leaders opted against it due to fears of falling debris hurting people on the ground.

An official said the balloon has “limited value” compared to what intelligence China is able to gather using satellites, although the department is taking “steps” to protect against possible foreign intelligence collection of sensitive information, without elaborating. The official requested anonymity in order to discuss sensitive issues.

The news of the balloon sighting surfaced Thursday, angering lawmakers including Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who called for an intelligence briefing.

“China’s brazen disregard for U.S. sovereignty is a destabilizing action that must be addressed, and President Biden cannot be silent,” McCarthy tweeted. “I am requesting a Gang of Eight briefing.”

The balloon was spotted over Montana, including over Malmstrom Air Force Base, which houses ground-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Montana Sen. Steve Daines demanded a briefing from the Biden administration Thursday night.

“Given the increased hostility and destabilization around the globe aimed at the United States and our allies, I am alarmed by the fact that this spy balloon was able to infiltrate the airspace of our country and Montana,” the Republican said in a statement.

The incident comes as Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepares to make his first visit to Beijing. No changes to the trip have been announced following the development.