US' Blinken, NATO's Stoltenberg rebuke China over balloon

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the balloon was part of a "broader program" affecting "five continents." NATO's visiting secretary-general called it part of a "pattern of behavior"

US' Blinken, NATO's Stoltenberg rebuke China over balloon
US' Blinken, NATO's Stoltenberg rebuke China over balloon


The US and NATO on Wednesday both criticized China over the network of suspected spy balloons like the one shot down off the eastern coast of the US last week.

The White House described the balloon as part of a "fleet" that has spanned five continents and said it had been in contact with allies.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg both raised the issue in a joint press conference in Washington D.C. on Wednesday.

"We already shared information with dozens of countries around the world, both from Washington and through our embassies," Blinken said. "We're doing so because the United States was not the only target of this broader program, which has violated the sovereignty of countries across five continents."

This comes as teams scramble to recover the debris from the large balloon and its payload off the coast of South Carolina.

Blinken said Washington was gaining more information "almost by the hour" and that the US would share relevant findings with Congress and allies around the world.

Stoltenberg: Balloon 'confirms a pattern of behavior'

NATO's Jens Stoltenberg said following his talks with Blinken that NATO had to be "vigilant," and warned that China was drawing lessons from the war in Ukraine, saying "what happens in Europe today could happen in Asia tomorrow," seemingly in reference to Taiwan or other potential Chinese aggression in the region.

"The Chinese balloon over the United States confirms a pattern of Chinese behavior where we see that China over the last years has invested heavily in new military capabilities," Stoltenberg said.

"We've also seen increased Chinese intelligence activities in Europe. They use satellites, they use cyber, and, as we've seen over the United States, also balloons. So we just have to be vigilant," he said.

Pentagon says aware of balloon operations for 'several years'

China insists that the balloon was merely conducting weather research, but the Pentagon described it as a high-tech spying operation. The balloon floated at an altitude far higher than most airplanes and crossed directly over at least one sensitive US military site.

Brigadier General Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters on Wednesday that the balloon was part of a surveillance operation China had been conducting for "several years."

Ryder said that when similar balloons passed over US territory on four occasions during the Biden and Trump administrations, the US did not immediately identify them as Chinese surveillance balloons.

But he said that "subsequent intelligence analysis" allowed the US to confirm it was an espionage operation and learn "a lot more" about the program.

When pressed about the previous balloons and their flight paths, he would only say that, like the current balloon, "they were over sites that would be of interest to the Chinese."

China disputes espionage intent, says balloon remains its property

Last week, the US had first said it was an unjustified risk to shoot down the balloon when it was over land, citing the danger of falling debris. But the debate continued as it crossed the continent, and the balloon was shot down soon after it floated clear of the eastern coast on Saturday.

China at first apologized for the balloon entering US airspace, saying this was unintentional. But it has also said the balloon's intentions were benign. And since it was shot down, Beijing also said it would "defend its interests" when sidestepping a question on whether it would demand that the US return any recovered debris.

Despite the concerted criticism from US government agencies on Wednesday, Biden has also voiced confidence that the incident should not have a pronounced negative impact on US-Chinese relations. Though he simultaneously struck a more combative tone in his State of the Union address to Congress.

"Make no mistake about it: as we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did," Biden told Congress.

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