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China spy balloon: China accuses US of sending balloons illegally into its airspace

US denies flying balloons over China

China spy balloon (File) The suspected Chinese spy balloon drifts to the ocean after being shot down off the coast in Surfside Beach, South Carolina, US | Reuters

The Chinese foreign ministry on Monday accused the United States of illegally flying over 10 high-altitude balloons in its airspace since last year.

The Chinese allegation comes after the US shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon that had crossed from Alaska to South Carolina, sparking a new crisis in bilateral relations that have spiralled to their lowest level in decades.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin gave no details about the alleged US balloons, how they had been dealt with or whether they had government or military links.

“It is also common for US balloons to illegally enter the airspace of other countries," Wang said at a daily briefing. Since last year, US high-altitude balloons have illegally flown over China's airspace more than 10 times without the approval of Chinese authorities."

“The first thing the US should do is to reflect on itself and change its own way, rather than slander, discredit or incite confrontation,” Wang was quoted saying by South China Morning Post.

China says the balloon shot down by the US was an unmanned airship made for meteorological research that had been blown off course. It has accused the US of overreacting by shooting it down and threatened to take unspecified action in response.

Following the incident, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken cancelled a visit to Beijing that many had hoped would put the brakes on the sharp decline in relations over Taiwan, trade, human rights and threatening Chinese actions in the disputed South China Sea.

Also on Monday, the Philippines accused a Chinese coast guard ship of targeting a Philippine coast guard vessel with a military-grade laser and temporarily blinding some of its crew in the South China Sea, calling it a blatant violation of Manila's sovereign rights.

Wang said a Philippine coast guard vessel had trespassed into Chinese waters without permission on February 6 and that Chinese coast guard vessels responded professionally and with “restraint."

China claims virtually all of the strategic waterway and has been steadily building up its maritime forces and island outposts.

“China and the Philippines are maintaining communication through diplomatic channels in this regard,” Wang said. China's Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to a question about the incident.

Adding to tensions, a US fighter jet shot down an unidentified object over Lake Huron on Sunday on orders from President Joe Biden. It was the fourth such downing in eight days in an extraordinary chain of events over US airspace that Pentagon officials believe has no peacetime precedent.

“The Chinese balloon shot down by the US was equipped to detect and collect intelligence signals as part of a huge, military-linked aerial surveillance programme that targeted more than 40 countries,” the Biden administration declared on Thursday, citing imagery from American U-2 spy planes.

The United States has since placed economic restrictions on six Chinese entities it said are linked to Beijing's aerospace programmes as part of its response to the incident.

The US House of Representatives also voted unanimously to condemn China for a brazen violation of US sovereignty and efforts to deceive the international community through false claims about its intelligence collection campaigns.

Wang, the Chinese spokesperson, repeated China's dismissal of such claims, saying, the frequent firing of advanced missiles by the US to shoot down the objects is an overreaction.

However, US denied the accusations and denied flying balloons over China. Reuters quoted White House national security spokesman John Kirby saying, "Not true. Not doing it. Just absolutely not true. We are not flying balloons over.”

(With PTI inputs.)

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