China has accused the United States of flying high-altitude balloons over its territory without permission more than 10 times in the past year, prompting a denial from the US government.
The allegation on Monday came days after the US shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon that had crossed from Alaska to South Carolina, sparking a new crisis in relations between the world’s top two economies. Beijing has insisted it was a weather craft that had blown off course.
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“It is also common for US balloons to illegally enter the airspace of other countries,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a news briefing.
“Since last year, US high-altitude balloons have illegally flown over China’s airspace more than 10 times without the approval of Chinese authorities,” Wang said without giving details about how they had been dealt with or whether they had government or military links.
The US should “first reflect on itself and change course, rather than smear and instigate a confrontation”, Wang said.
The White House swiftly denied China’s assertions.
“Not true. Not doing it. Just absolutely not true,” national security spokesman John Kirby said in an interview with MSNBC. “We are not flying balloons over China.”
After the downing of the alleged Chinese airship last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken cancelled a visit to Beijing that many had hoped would put the brakes on the sharp decline in relations over Taiwan, trade, human rights and Chinese claims in the disputed South China Sea.
The US has since placed economic restrictions on six Chinese entities it said are linked to China’s aerospace programmes.
US Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves has said his department “will not hesitate to continue to use” such restrictions and other regulatory and enforcement tools “to protect US national security and sovereignty”.
The US House of Representatives also voted unanimously to condemn China for a “brazen violation” of US sovereignty and efforts to “deceive the international community through false claims about its intelligence collection campaigns”.
Separately on Monday, the Philippines accused a Chinese coastguard ship of targeting a Philippine coastguard vessel with a military-grade laser and temporarily blinding some of its crew in the South China Sea. Manila called the incident a “blatant” violation of the Philippines’ sovereign rights.
Wang said a Philippine coastguard vessel had trespassed into Chinese waters without permission on February 6 and that Chinese coastguard vessels responded “professionally and with restraint”. China claims virtually all of the South China Sea and has been steadily building up its maritime forces and island outposts in the strategic waterway.
“China and the Philippines are maintaining communication through diplomatic channels in this regard,” Wang said.