What we know and don’t know about the Chinese ball

Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified the location of airports where ground stops were ordered on Saturday afternoon.

(NewsNation) – The US government continues to monitor a huge high-altitude Chinese balloon that has been moving across the United States for a few days now.

A senior Ministry of Defense official said there was “tremendous confidence” in the balloon being owned and operated by the Chinese government. The Pentagon, meanwhile, says it knows it’s a surveillance balloon — though officials didn’t give specific details on Friday as to why they thought so.

While questions remain over the exact use of the ball, here’s what’s known so far:

What happened?

US defense officials have tracked the Chinese balloon, which they say is used for espionage, for days. It drifted over the Aleutian Islands off Alaska and Canada before returning to the United States.

Is the ball dangerous?

Federal officials say the balloon poses no military or physical threat to people on the ground.

A high-altitude balloon floats over Billings, Montana, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. (Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via AP)

While there were concerns Friday about the balloon hovering over three airbases in or near Montana, U.S. officials played down any tactical advantage it might have.

The three airbases, which are known to have long-range nuclear missile silos, are Malmstrom Air Force Base, about four hours north of Billings, Montana; Minot Air Force Base, east in North Dakota; and Francis E. Warren Air Force Base, just south of Wyoming.

On “NewsNation Live”, retired Major General William Enyart said that balloon was “really insignificant”.

“This ball won’t add anything that the Chinese aren’t already getting,” Enyart said. “The only two possible useful pieces of information they could glean from it would be weather and winds aloft – which could potentially impact missiles and bombers – and second, our ability to sense, track and respond at an altitude elevated, airborne. apparatus.”

Where is the ball?

On Friday, the balloon was over the center of the United States, although the Pentagon did not give details of its location. They said it was 60,000 feet above the United States

“The balloon is currently traveling well above commercial air traffic and poses no military or physical threat to those on the ground,” Pentagon spokesman Brig. General Pat Ryder said in a statement.

Local reports said on Saturday it was flying over North Carolina. That afternoon, a ground stop had been ordered at three airports — one in North Carolina and two in South Carolina, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

What is the United States going to do about it?

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said President Joe Biden was briefed on the balloon on Tuesday and asked military advisers to present options. It was their strong recommendation at the time not to act, advice the president took “seriously”, she said. For now, Jean-Pierre said the United States is keeping all options open.

On Saturday, however, President Biden remarked that officials were “going to deal with” the alleged surveillance balloon, but did not specify what they had planned, Reuters reported.

But officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that the Biden administration is considering a plan to bring the balloon down by dropping it once it is over the Atlantic Ocean. where the remains could potentially be recovered.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken had already postponed a planned high-stakes diplomatic trip to Beijing because of the balloon. Although he was prepared on Thursday to travel to China this weekend, the Biden administration began to reconsider the trip after the balloon was detected on Wednesday.

CNN reported that Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, said on Friday that the UN is concerned “whenever there are heightened tensions between China and the United States.”

“Given the world-leading position of both countries, I think it’s incumbent on them to do whatever they can to reduce tensions,” Dujarric said, according to CNN.

Why haven’t officials shot him yet?

Former President Donald Trump wrote on his Truth Social social media platform that the United States should knock the ball down, which Republican lawmakers, including Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, also said.

However, defense officials said it would not be a safe option because falling debris could pose a risk to residents on the grounds.

Retired General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s former Supreme Allied Commander, said the United States probably wouldn’t want to start firing in areas considered contentious either.

“We fly to many places in the South China Sea with our planes. … China claims it’s their airspace. There may be a consideration there that we don’t want to start a process of filming things. who are in these kinds of contested areas,” Breedlove told NewsNation host Leland Vittert in an interview.

Even if U.S. officials decided to drop the ball, the likelihood of it hitting anything of value is pretty low, Breedlove continued.

“I think the military is making the right decision by not shooting him down,” Enyart said.

What did China say and how did the United States react?

Although China has angrily denounced surveillance attempts by the United States and others in the past, it has been relatively accommodating in its response to complaints about the current balloon, the Associated Press reported.

The AP said China’s statement “similar to an apology”, adding that the Chinese Foreign Ministry claimed the balloon was a civilian airship used primarily for weather research.

The balloon had limited “self-steering” capabilities and winds caused it to deviate away from its intended path, China said.

“The Chinese side regrets the airship’s involuntary entry into US airspace due to force majeure,” the statement said. “Force Majeure” is a legal term used to refer to events beyond a person’s control.

Ryder said Pentagon officials are aware of China’s statement but still believe it is a surveillance balloon. He couldn’t be more specific than that.

“The balloon violated US airspace and international law, which is unacceptable,” Ryder said. The United States, he added, has communicated this to Chinese leaders on many levels.

How many balloons are tracked at the moment?

The United States is currently tracking a ball. Canada, the Toronto Star reported, were tracking a potential second ball on Friday.

“Canadians are safe and Canada is taking steps to keep our airspace secure, including monitoring for a potential second incident,” Canada’s Department of National Defense said in a statement, according to The Star. .

Also on Friday, Ryder told NewsNation that the Pentagon had seen reports of a balloon “passing through Latin America.”

“We are now assessing that this is another Chinese surveillance balloon,” he said, adding that there was no further information to provide at this time.

What is the size of the ball?

Pentagon officials would not go into the specific size of the balloon, saying only that it is large enough that any potential debris would be significant and cause property damage, civilian injury or even death.

The AP reported that a defense official said the balloon was the size of three buses.

Associated Press and NewsNation digital content producer Tyler Wornell contributed to this report.


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