By Caden Pearson
The Pentagon released a photo of the Chinese spy balloon on Wednesday taken by a U.S. Air Force pilot before it was shot down earlier this month.
The photo of the Chinese spy balloon hovering over the central continental United States was captured by a U-2 pilot on Feb. 3. The image depicts the pilot observing the suspect balloon from above.
The Chinese spy balloon was shot down by the Air Force the next day off the coast of South Carolina. The last of the debris was collected on Feb. 16 by U.S. Navy assets assigned to U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM), which oversees the defense for much of North America.
NORTHCOM said in a statement on Feb. 17 that the debris would be given to the FBI for analysis.
The incident set off an uproar in the United States and forced Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel a planned visit to Beijing, which would have been the first trip a U.S. Secretary of State took to China in five years.
The Biden administration viewed the trip to China as an opportunity to improve relations that had deteriorated due to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in 2022.
The Biden administration has said it wants to maintain open lines of communication with Beijing even after it announced that the Chinese balloon, which hovered over U.S. airspace for longer than a week, was part of a worldwide surveillance program that impacts more than 40 nations, including Washington’s “closest allies and partners.”
“I expect to be speaking with President Xi, and I hope we are going to get to the bottom of this,” President Joe Biden stated at a Feb. 16 news conference, although he added that he makes “no apologies for taking down that balloon.”
US Condemned Chinese Incursion
Blinken ultimately met with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 19.
Before the meeting, Wang, the Chinese state councilor and director of Beijing’s Central Foreign Affairs Office, had intensified his rhetoric against Washington. Wang reiterated the Chinese regime’s assertions that shooting down the balloon in U.S. airspace was “absurd, almost hysterical.” He urged the United States to “correct its mistakes” to demonstrate its sincerity.
Taking to Twitter after the meeting, Blinken said he condemned the Chinese regime’s act of sending a surveillance balloon over U.S. airspace.
“I condemned the incursion of the PRC surveillance balloon and stressed it must never happen again,” Blinken wrote, referring to China by its formal name, the “People’s Republic of China.”
“I warned China against providing [material] support to Russia,” he added. “I also emphasized the importance of keeping open lines of communication.”
Blinken later told NBC News that Wang offered “no apology” for the balloon incident.
“There was no apology,” Blinken said. “But what I can also tell you is this was an opportunity to speak very clearly and very directly about the fact that China sent a surveillance balloon over our territory, violating our sovereignty, violating international law.”
The U.S. secretary of state added that he told Wang “quite simply” that it was “unacceptable” and can never happen again.
As per the readout provided by State Department spokesperson Ned Price, Blinken “made clear” that any infringement of the United States’ sovereignty will not be tolerated, and the Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon program has been exposed to the world.