‘Spy balloon’ spotted over Latin America is for ‘civilian usage’, China says

A suspected surveillance balloon spotted over Latin America is for “civilian usage” and entered the region’s airspace by accident, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman has said.

The balloon has been spotted after US fighter jets shot down an initial suspected Chinese spying device off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said in her regular briefing on Monday that the US should handle the spying saga in a calm, proper manner without the use of force.

Beijing also urged Washington not to escalate the issue or take further action to harm its interests.

Speaking about the initial suspected Chinese spy balloon that was seen over the US last week, Ms Ning said on Monday that the “civilian airship” had drifted into US skies in an “isolated and accidental incident caused by force majeure”.

Ms Ning said on Monday that the balloon is for civilian purposes with limited self-steering capabilities.

She said: “As for the balloon in Latin America’s sky, we have learned and verified that the relevant unmanned airship is from China. It is of civilian usage and is used for flight tests.

“Affected by weather and due to limited self-control ability, the airship severely deviated from its set route and entered the space of Latin America and the Caribbean by accident.”

The drama over the balloons has further strained tense relations, prompting Washington to cancel a planned visit to Beijing by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The US Navy is working to recover the balloon and its payload and the Coast Guard is providing security for the operation, General Glen VanHerck, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and US Northern Command, said on Sunday.

A successful recovery could potentially give the United States insight into China’s spying capabilities, although US

officials have downplayed the balloon’s impact on national security.

The row also comes after the US and China have been seeking to bolster communications and begin to mend ties that had been under severe strain in recent years over tensions on several fronts, including US efforts to block Chinese access to key cutting-edge technologies.

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