A Foreign Ministry spokesperson is urging calm as U.S. lawmakers call for an investigation.
Beijing says it “regrets” that one of its balloons violated U.S. sovereign airspace a day after reports that the airship is hovering over Montana, causing the Air Force to scramble fighter jets and prompting lawmakers to demand briefings over the Biden administration’s handling of the incident.
The Foreign Ministry on Friday confirmed the balloon belongs to China and said it’s a civilian airship used primarily for meteorological purposes. The ministry claimed it had strayed from its original course due to winds that affected its steering capabilities.
“The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure,” the ministry said, using a term for an event beyond the control of a country. “The Chinese side will continue communicating with the U.S. side and properly handle this unexpected situation caused by force majeure.”
The ministry earlier said any violation was unintentional as it urged calm in Washington.
“China is a responsible country,” Mao Ning, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said in a Friday press briefing. “It has always strictly abided by international law and has no intention of violating the territory and airspace of any sovereign country. As I said just now, we are learning about the verification situation and hope that both sides can handle it calmly and cautiously.”
The Pentagon had already assessed it had “very high confidence” the balloon was Chinese and had been sent to the U.S. to collect sensitive information.
A senior Defense Department official told reporters Thursday that the U.S. prepared fighter jets to shoot down the balloon, but senior Pentagon leaders opted against it due to fears of falling debris hurting people on the ground.
The balloon was spotted over Montana, including over Malmstrom Air Force Base, which houses ground-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles.
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