During a press briefing on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin accused the United States of mass surveillance in the South China Sea, further claiming that American high altitude balloons have violated Chinese airspace numerous times over the past year.
“Over the years, the US has been engaged in massive, non-discriminate wiretapping and secret theft operations globally, including against its allies, by abusing its tech advantage,” Wenbin said, adding that “These operations violate the sovereignty and interests of countries around the world, the international law and basic norms governing international relations, which makes the US the absolute No.1 country in terms of spying and surveillance.”
“The US military vessels and aircraft conduct frequent close-in reconnaissance on China, including 657 sorties last year and 64 sorties in January this year in the South China Sea alone, which seriously undermines China’s national security and regional peace and stability.”
Wenbin also claimed that “US balloons have often entered other countries’ airspace illegally. Since last year, US high-altitude balloons have flown over Chinese airspace over ten times without authorization from China. The US needs to reflect on its own behavior and change course rather than attacking others and stoking confrontation.”
When asked if the three unknown high altitude objects shot down over the US and Canada were Chinese, Wenbin also stated “I do not have anything on that. We believe that no irresponsible comments should be made when there is no clear evidence. And we are absolutely opposed to made-up stories and smears against China.”
The Claims were quickly denied, with National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson saying that “Any claim that the US government operates surveillance balloons over the PRC [People’s Republic of China] is false.” This was also echoed by National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, who told MSNBC’s Morning Joe that the claim is “Not true. Not doing it. Just absolutely not true. We are not flying balloons over China.” For years, the United States has insisted that intelligence operations in the Indo-Pacific region are done so in international waters and airspace, however, China’s vast claims over the South China Sea and Taiwan have blurred this concept.
As we all know, the United States military shot down a suspected Chinese ISR balloon off the coast of South Carolina on February 4 after it drifted across central parts of the country. China maintains that the balloon was civilian and that its course was unintended, but this was rebuked by the US military, who says the balloon had maneuverability when it passed over several sensitive military installations. The balloon’s payload and capabilities remains unclear at this time as military forces continue to salvage its wreckage.
Meanwhile, three unidentified high altitude “objects” were downed over the US and Canada this weekend. The first was on friday, which was shot down near Prudhoe Bay in northern Alaska by an F-22. US officials described the object as different from the one last weekend, being cylindrical, metallic, and about the size of a small car. The next day, another “object” was shot down over Yukon, Canada, by an American F-22. This “object” was similar to the one the day before. Then on Sunday, a third “object,” described as being octagonal in shape, was shot down by an American F-16 over Canadian waters of Lake Huron. In all three instances, the “objects” were shot down due to their operational height, which was considered dangerous to commercial aircraft.
Officials have yet to outright confirm what they were exactly, although Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that US intelligence believes the “objects” are also balloons. Regardless, there has been no indication of their intended purpose or origin, except that US officials say they aren’t extraterrestrial. The US and Canada have continued to hold back accusations that the latest three “objects” may be Chinese.