US completes recovery of downed Chinese balloon debris

US officials say that analysis of debris confirms suspicions that balloon was for surveillance, which China denies.

The United States has completed efforts to recover debris from a large Chinese balloon that the US shot down off the coast of South Carolina earlier this month, with analysis so far indicating it was used for surveillance, which China has denied.

Officials said the US believes that Navy, Coast Guard and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) personnel collected all of the balloon debris off the ocean floor, which included key equipment from the payload that could reveal what information it was able to monitor and collect.

In a statement on Friday, the US Northern Command said that the last remnants of the balloon were being sent to the FBI for study, and that recovery efforts had concluded on Thursday.

“Final pieces of debris are being transferred to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Laboratory in Virginia for counterintelligence exploitation, as has occurred with the previous surface and subsurface debris recovered,” according to the statement.

The end of the recovery efforts came after several weeks of tense relations between Beijing and Washington, with China denying that the balloon was for surveillance purposes and accusing the US of overreaction.

Speaking to MSNBC News on Friday in Munich, US Vice President Kamala Harris said the US was confident that the balloon was being “used by China to spy on the American people”.

“That balloon was not helpful, which is why we shot it down,” Harris said.

The incident heightened tensions between the US and China.

Chinese military officials refused calls from their US counterparts after the balloon was shot down.

Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a scheduled visit to China following the balloon incident, which he said “undermined” the purpose of the trip. It has not been rescheduled.

However, the Biden administration has also said that the US is not seeking conflict with China, which has the second-largest economy in the world after the US and is seen as essential for tackling global issues such as the climate crisis.

“We are not looking for a new cold war,” Biden said in remarks on Thursday. “I expect to be speaking with President Xi. I hope we are going to get to the bottom of this, but I make no apologies for taking down that balloon.”

The US has also shot down three unidentified objects in US and Canadian airspace over the last several weeks, in a series of bizarre incidents that have prompted speculation and rumours about the origin and nature of the objects.

On Thursday, Biden said that the objects were harmless and probably connected to private entities or research, adding that it is not likely that the three objects were connected to the Chinese balloon that the US shot down off the coast of South Carolina on February 4.

Tensions between the two countries are not new: China and the US have previously traded accusations over issues like trade and technology, human rights violations, and China’s desire to bring the self-governing island of Taiwan under its control.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies