China has hit out at the US for shooting down the suspected spy balloon which it called an "errant civilian airship used mainly for meteorological research that went off course."
The Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed strong dissatisfaction and protested against the "use of force" to shoot down a Chinese civilian airship, urging the US to properly handle the incident."
"The spokesperson of US Defense Ministry has said that the balloon does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground. Despite this, the US has obviously overreacted by insisting the use of force and seriously violated international practice," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
It added that China will resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of relevant companies while reserving the right to take further necessary actions, according to state-backed Global Times.
China had earlier claimed that it verified the situation and communicated with the US side multiple times, saying the airship unintendedly entered US airspace due to force majeure and the incident was totally an accident.
"China is a responsible country and has always strictly abided by international law. We do not accept any groundless speculation and hype," Wang Yi, director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China said in a phone conversation with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken late Friday before the balloon was show down.
According to the Chinese official, they had urged the US to deal with the incident in a calm and professional manner. Wang said in face of unexpected situations, both sides should maintain focus, communicate in a timely manner, avoid misjudgments, and manage differences.
Though Beijing claimed the balloon was just an errant civilian airship with limited self-steering capabilities, the US insisted that it was a Chinese spy balloon. The Pentagon says the balloon, which was carrying sensors and surveillance equipment, was manoeuvrable and showed it could change course. The balloon was reportedly seen hovering over sensitive areas of Montana where nuclear warheads are siloed.
The incident also prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel his weekend trip to China.
This isn't the first time that suspected Chinese spy balloons enter the US airspace. According to officials, Chinese balloons transited the continental United States briefly at least three times during the Trump administration and once that they know about earlier in the Biden administration. But none of those incidents lasted this length of time.