Washington, Feb 8 – The US Navy has released photos of debris of the suspected Chinese spy balloon which was shot down by an American F-22 fighter jet over the Atlantic Ocean on February 4.
The photos were published on Tuesday by the US Fleet Forces Command on its social media handles.
The balloon was retrieved off the coast of Myrtle Beach in South Carolina a day after it was shot down, the BBC reported.
According to the Navy, the balloon’s debris was spread over 11 km of the Atlantic Ocean, and two naval ships were sent to the area.
The photos showed the piles of balloon material being pulled aboard by hand.
According to the US Fleet Forces Command, the sailors retrieving the debris on Sunday were part of the Navy’s specialist explosives team.
The debris were now being sent to an FBI laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, for analysis to see whether it was indeed spy equipment, reports CNN.
On Monday, Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of US Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), told reporters that the balloon was roughly 200 feet tall and carried a payload portion comparable in size to regional airliners and weighing hundreds, or potentially thousands of pounds.
US defence officials first announced they were tracking the “strange object” on February 2, and waited until it was safely over water before shooting it down.
The discovery of the balloon set off a diplomatic crisis, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken immediately calling off a weekend trip to China — which would be the first such high level US-China meeting there in years — over the “irresponsible act”.
On Tuesday, US officials said the Pentagon sought to arrange a phone call between Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart after the balloon was shot down, but was rebuffed by Beijing, reports the BBC.
“Lines between our militaries are particularly important in moments like this,” defence press secretary Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the PRC (People’s Republic of China) has declined our request.”
China had admitted ownership of the balloon on Monday, saying it was used for flight tests and had “seriously deviated” from its flight course “by mistake”.
“China is a responsible country. We have always strictly abided by international law. We have informed all relevant parties and appropriately handled the situation, which did not pose any threats to any countries,” CNN quoted Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning as saying to reporters.
On February 3, the Pentagon had said a second Chinese spy balloon had been spotted — this time over Latin America with reported sightings over Costa Rica and Venezuela.
Colombia’s Air Force says an identified object — believed to be a balloon — was detectedin the country’s airspace at above 55,000ft.
It says it followed the object until it left the airspace, adding that it did not represent a threat to national security.
US will act if threatened: Biden tells China
US President Joe Biden cited the shooting down of a Chinese spy balloon last week to warn Beijing that Washington “will act” if its sovereignty was threatened.
Delivering his second State of the Union address, an annual homily by a US President of past achievements and future plans, Biden used the shooting of the balloon — without going into specifics — to engage in some saber-rattling at Beijing even as sought to frame the relationship with China as a competition rather than a conflict.
“As we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did,” he said in his address on Tuesday night.
He went on to rub it in and added “name me a world leader who’d change places with (Chinese President) Xi Jinping… Name me one! Name me one!”.
The suspected Chinese spy balloon which was shot down by an American F-22 fighter jet over the Atlantic Ocean on February 4.
US defence officials had first announced they were tracking the “strange object” on February 2, and waited until it was safely over water before shooting it down.
The officials described it as a violation of American sovereignty and internal laws.
Debris of the balloon and its payload were salvaged off the coast of Myrtle Beach in South Carolina a day after it was shot down.
The development came at a time when the two countries were moving to put the relationship on an even keel, building on the first in-person summit between Biden and Xi on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken immediately called off his weekend visit to Beijing for wide-ranging talks, including a meeting with President Xi, even after China had expressed regret in a rare display of contrition — it said the “airship” was meant to study weather and had strayed into American airspace.
In his Tuesday night address, other major foreign policy issue Biden addressed at some length was Ukraine.
He reiterated his administration’s commitment to helping Ukraine “as long as it takes” amid Moscow’s ongoing war against Kiev.
The US has sent billions worth of military equipment to help Ukraine defend itself in the face of Russian invasion, and he has rallied NATO and other allies to do the same.
“We united NATO and built a global coalition.We stood against (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s aggression,” he said.
Biden’s speech was aimed largely at the domestic audience with talk of him getting ready to announce his re-election bid for 2024.
Even as he touted his administration’s achievements since he took office in 2021, Biden also issued an appeal for unity, and repeatedly asked the Republicans to work with him.