China claimed Friday to be launching its own investigation into the suspected spy balloon flying over the US — as Canada said it was also monitoring “a potential second incident.”
The Chinese foreign ministry said Beijing was “verifying” the situation after US officials confirmed they had “communicated” the “seriousness with which we take this issue.”
The ministry’s spokesperson, Mao Ning, said China hopes “that both sides can handle this together calmly and carefully.”
“I would like to emphasize that until the facts are clarified, speculation and hype will not be helpful to the proper resolution of the issue,” Mao told a daily briefing Friday.
“China is a responsible country and has always strictly abided by international laws, and China has no intention of violating the territory and airspace of any sovereign country,” she said.
A top Pentagon official said the US intelligence community has “very high confidence” that the balloon — about as long as three buses — belongs to China, with US fighter jets prepped to shoot it down.
It has for the last two days been flying over sensitive sites, including Montana, home to one of the US’ three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base.
As China called for calm, Canada’s defense ministry said it was monitoring a “potential second incident.”
“A high-altitude surveillance balloon was detected and its movements are being actively tracked by” the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the department said.
“Canadians are safe and Canada is taking steps to ensure the security of its airspace, including the monitoring of a potential second incident,” it said, without detailing the exact location.
“Canada’s intelligence agencies are working with American partners and continue to take all necessary measures to safeguard Canada’s sensitive information from foreign intelligence threats.
“We remain in frequent contact with our American allies as the situation develops,” the department stressed.
The news came as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was expected to make his first trip to Beijing this weekend, the highest-ranking member of President Biden’s administration to visit.
The visit has not been formally announced, and it was not immediately clear if the balloon’s discovery would affect his travel plans.
Republican Sen. Tom Cotton was among those calling for Blinken to cancel his trip.
Sen. Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate intelligence committee, said the spy balloon was “alarming but not surprising.”
“The level of espionage aimed at our country by Beijing has grown dramatically more intense & brazen over the last 5 years,” Rubio said on Twitter.
Balloons are one of the oldest forms of surveillance technology, with their slow speeds allowing them to easily loiter over sensitive sites while gathering information.
It is also popular because it seems so harmless, experts say.
“Beijing is probably trying to signal to Washington: ‘While we want to improve ties, we are also ever ready for sustained competition, using any means necessary’, without severely inflaming tensions,” air-power analyst He Yuan Ming told the BBC.
“And what better tool for this than a seemingly innocuous balloon.”
Others suggest China could be testing the water before using more sophisticated surveillance technology at its disposal.
“The balloon was to send a signal to the Americans, and also to see how the Americans would react,” China expert Benjamin Ho told the outlet.
Arthur Holland Michel from the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, suggested that China could even been sending a clear message rather than trying to sneak thee balloon over US skies.
“It’s possible that being spotted was the whole point,” he said.
“China might be using the balloon to demonstrate that it has a sophisticated technological capability to penetrate US airspace without risking a serious escalation.
“In this regard, a balloon is a pretty ideal choice.”