The US is more aware of its skies today than usual. And for a reason that has little to do with storms, snowfalls, storms or hurricanes. What worries him is a balloon, a device that the country’s Defense Department has already clearly identified as a “high-altitude surveillance” device and that flies over its territory, including sensitive areas for its military use.
More than why, the big question is who sent the balloon. And the answer that media such as The Guardian, The Financial Times, BBC or The New York Times are already pointing out, citing official sources, is that it is a Chinese device. The US authorities have already considered shooting it down after detecting it over the state of Montana, next to the Canadian border, but have ended up ruling out the option for fear that its pieces represent a risk when falling on the ground.
General Pat Ryder, of the Department of Defense, assures that the United States is monitoring the device “closely” and calls for calm: “It is currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not pose a threat military or physical for people on the ground”. The authorities have already taken measures to “protect themselves from the collection of confidential information”.
HAPPENING NOW: Photo shows the massive Chinese spy balloon over Montana.
U.S. military is tracking the balloon. pic.twitter.com/RS52mQE9Og
— Antonio Sabato Jr. (@AntonioSabatoJr) February 3, 2023
In China, the spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, Mao Ning, has only warned of “exaggeration and speculation” until the facts are clarified. “They would not lead to a solution,” the senior leader pointed out during her daily press conference, and she stressed: “China has no intention of violating the territory or airspace of any sovereign state.” In her department they would not have confirmed or denied a possible link with the balloon located in the US.
A Pentagon military commander has come to admit to the press, in statements collected by El País, that the device has a clear espionage purpose and that the authorities have even gone so far as to mobilize manned planes to monitor it. Faced with a possible demolition maneuver while the balloon was flying over Montana, where the United States houses silos with nuclear weapons, they reached suspend civilian flights and mobilized military aircraft, such as F-22 fighters.
NORAD and U.S. Northern Command statement on the high-altitude surveillance balloon. pic.twitter.com/NyALmVqJ9k
— U.S. Northern Command (@USNorthernCmd) February 3, 2023
The balloon would have entered the US through Alaska.
The incident occurs at a key moment for diplomatic relations between the US and China, two superpowers that have seen their relationship under strain in recent months. One of the big points of friction is Taiwan, an island that the speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, visited in the summer in a gesture that unleashed the fury of Beijing. The alleged Chinese balloon also comes after the Philippines and the US have announced a pact that facilitates access for US troops to military bases in the Asian archipelago, very close to both Taiwan and the South China Sea.
The discovery of the balloon also comes shortly before the US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken travels to Beijing, a crucial appointment that will mark the first visit of a high position of the North American country to China in years.
Imagen de portada: Navy Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Alexander Kubitza (US Department of Defense)