China is sticking to its story that its now-infamous balloon over the US was merely a wayward weather balloon. After an American fighter jet shot it down over South Carolina on Saturday, Beijing responded with a warning:
- “We solemnly protest the US action, and retain the right to use the necessary means to deal with similar circumstances,” said the Chinese Defense Ministry a statement, per CNN.
- China's foreign ministry also criticized the US: “The Chinese side clearly requested that the US appropriately deal with this in a calm, professional and restrained manner,” said its statement. “For the United States to insist on using armed force is a clear overreaction and a serious violation of international practice."
The US continues to insist that the balloon was used for surveillance, and it's possible that recovery of the debris could settle the question. In the meantime, the New York Times reports that Beijing is in a delicate position. "China is in a very tight geopolitical spot,” Evan Medeiros, a professor of international politics at Georgetown University, tells the newspaper. “They were caught red handed with no place to go. And during a moment when they want to improve relations with many big powers, principally the US.” The Washington Post has a similar sentiment from an unnamed senior US official.
Beijing is “freaked” by the incident, says the official. “They’re in a very tough place. And they have very few cards to play right now.” The Post notes that a second Chinese balloon has been spotted over Latin America, and a third one is believed to be floating around somewhere else. The AP adds some context: A Chinese balloon was spotted in US airspace at least three times during the Trump administration and at least one time previously in the Biden administration, though not for as long as the most recent balloon. (Read more spy balloon stories.)