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Pentagon won’t rule out shootdown of ‘maneuverable’ China spy balloon

( NYPost )

The Chinese spy balloon wreaking havoc over US airspace this week has moved on from Montana, but could continue lingering over the country “for days,” the Pentagon said Friday.

“While we won’t get into specifics in regards to the exact location, I can tell you that the balloon continues to move eastward and is currently over the center of the continental United States,” spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told reporters.

Shortly after Ryder’s briefing, Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) confirmed the balloon had been spotted over northeastern Kansas. Other sightings were reported over northwestern Missouri, near the Kansas City area.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Friday claimed the object was a civilian weather instrument that had drifted off course and denied that it had any “intention of violating the territory and airspace of any sovereign country.”

However, Ryder described the balloon as “maneuverable,” noting that it “has changed its course, which is again why we’re monitoring it.”

While Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin earlier this week advised President Biden not to direct the military to shoot down the balloon given its potential for damage, the Pentagon continues assessing its “options” on how to handle the balloon, Ryder said.

The spokesman declined to say whether the decision would change if the spy balloon floated toward the nation’s capital, nor would he rule out what might happen once it is no longer over US soil.

“Right now, we assess that it’ll probably be over the United States for a few days,” he said. “But we’ll continue to monitor [it and] review our options.”

The spokesman declined to say when the balloon began changing course and whether the movement coincided with the US informing China that it had detected the object.

“Clearly it’s violated US airspace, and again, we’ve communicated that fact to [China],” Ryder said.

The balloon is at an altitude of about 60,000 feet — about 20,000 feet higher than commercial airspace — and is not believed to “pose a potential risk to people while in the air,” he said.

Ryder added the object is carrying a sizable “payload” of surveillance technology that could bring “the potential for debris and the impact on civilians on the ground or property damage” if it were shot down. However, Ryder said the Pentagon does not believe it is carrying weaponry or other concerning material — radioactive or otherwise.

“It is a surveillance balloon, right, so there is a surveillance capability underneath this large balloon,” he said. “So if you look at a blimp, a blimp has a basket, right? So there’s a basket underneath it, in layman’s terms.”

“So again, large enough to be concerning if there were a debris field,” he added.

When the Pentagon notified the public on Thursday, the balloon was spotted hovering over Big Sky Country, home to one of America’s three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base near Great Falls.

While the Pentagon has admitted it has seen similar incursions of foreign balloons into US airspace, Ryder declined to say whether those instances ever occurred over critical military infrastructure.

President Biden has declined to speak publicly about the balloon. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that the president was first briefed about the object on Tuesday.

“He asked the military to present options. It was the strong recommendation by Secretary Austin and [Joint Chiefs of Staff] Chairman [Gen. Mark] Milley [and] the commander of Northern Command not to take kinetic action because of the risks to safety and security of the people on the ground,” she said. “President Biden took that recommendation from the military seriously.”

Republicans have demanded that Biden order the balloon shot down amid uncertainty about whether first son Hunter Biden still co-owns a company called BHR Partners with the Chinese government.

Hunter, who is expected to huddle with his father at Camp David this weekend to discuss congressional oversight investigations, co-founded BHR Partners in 2013 within weeks of joining then-Vice President Joe Biden aboard Air Force Two on an official trip to Beijing.

On that trip, he introduced his dad to BHR CEO Jonathan Li, according to the Wall Street Journal. Joe Biden later wrote college recommendation letters for Li’s children.

One week after President Biden’s November 2021 virtual summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Hunter Biden’s attorney Chris Clark said the BHR stake was divested. However, online records continued to show that the first son holds the stake and neither Clark nor the White House would provide further information on the supposed transaction.

Clark has not responded to a series of inquiries from The Post seeking details, including an email sent Friday.

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