China claims second suspected spy balloon over Latin America was also lost
( NYPost )
Chinese officials have admitted to owning the second spy balloon spotted over Latin America last week, which they claimed was also blown off-course like the device shot down over US waters.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said Monday that the balloon over Latin America was an unmanned research airship that had its course derailed by the weather, the Wall Street Journal reported.
“This airship seriously strayed from its planned route, and accidentally entered the skies over Latin America and the Caribbean,” Mao said, according to the outlet.
She did not address what areas the balloon was supposed to be observing.
Pentagon officials announced the sighting of the Latin American balloon on Friday, one day after they confirmed that a similar object had been detected over sensitive areas of the western US.
The US balloon subsequently traced a path across the country before it was shot down off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on Saturday.
While US officials maintain that the balloons are part of a covert Chinese surveillance operation, Chinese spokespeople insist that the devices are part of a civilian research effort.
After the aircraft was shot down, Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng filed a formal complaint with the American Embassy, calling the incident a “US attack on a Chinese civilian unmanned airship by military force.”
“What the US has done has dealt a serious blow and damaged the efforts and advances in stabilizing China-US relations since the Bali meeting,” he said, referring to President Biden’s November tête-à-tête with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The second spy balloon elicited little response from Latin American governments, many of which are keen to cement their own trade relationships with Beijing, the WSJ reported.
Colombia’s air force reportedly confirmed that the device traveled over northern parts of the country at a speed of 29 miles per hour, but noted that “this element did not represent a threat to national security and defense.”
Costa Rica’s foreign ministry also said the second balloon flew over its territory, and that the Chinese embassy in San José had apologized for the incident.
Officials in Mexico, Argentina and Brazil reportedly declined to comment.
News of the Chinese spy balloon comes at a particularly fraught period for US-China relations. In light of the scandal, Secretary of State Antony Blinken indefinitely postponed his plan to visit China early this week.
“We’ve assessed it would not be conducive or constructive to travel to Beijing right now,” one official told reporters Friday.
“And I think, candidly speaking, in this current environment, I think it would have significantly narrowed the agenda that we would have been able to address.”
China’s confirmation of the second balloon also comes shortly after American Enterprise Institute non-resident fellow Michael Mazza wrote in The Post that the suspicious devices presented a “Sputnik moment” for Biden’s America.
Referring to the Soviet Union’s October 1957 satellite launch, Mazza called on Washington to use the spy balloon incident as fuel for bipartisanship.
“Republicans and Democrats should come together to ensure this moment doesn’t end in a pointless burst of hot air,” he insisted.