Kuala Lumpur Post


US fighter jets shoot down Chinese spy balloon off East Coast

SURFSIDE BEACH (United States), — A US military fighter jet shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina yesterday, a week after it entered US airspace and triggered a dramatic — and public — spying saga that worsened Sino-US relations.

President Joe Biden said he had issued an order on Wednesday to take down the balloon, but the Pentagon had recommended waiting until it could be done over open water to safeguard civilians from debris crashing to Earth from thousands of feet (metres) above commercial air traffic.

“They successfully took it down, and I want to compliment our aviators who did it,” Biden said.

Multiple fighter and refueling aircraft were involved in the mission, but only one — an F-22 fighter jet from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia — took the shot at 2.39pm (1939 GMT/3.39pm Malaysian time), using a single AIM-9X supersonic, heat-seeking, air-to-air missile, a senior US military official said.

The balloon was shot down about six nautical miles off the US coast, over relatively shallow water, potentially aiding efforts to recover elements of the Chinese surveillance equipment in the coming days, officials said.

The shootdown came shortly after the US government ordered a halt to flights in and out of three regional airports — Wilmington, Myrtle Beach and Charleston — due to what it said at the time was an undisclosed “national security effort.” The flights resumed yesterday afternoon.

While yesterday’s shootdown concludes the military dimension to the spying saga, Biden is likely to continue to face intense political scrutiny from Republican opponents in Congress who argue he failed to act quickly enough.

Questions also remain about how much information China may have gathered during the balloon’s trek across the United States.

The balloon first entered US airspace in Alaska on January 28 before moving into Canadian airspace on Monday Jan 30. It then re-entered US airspace over northern Idaho on January 31, a US defence official said. Once it crossed over US land, it did not return to the open waters, making a shootdown difficult.

US officials did not publicly disclose the balloon’s presence over the United States until Thursday.

“It’s clear the Biden administration had hoped to hide this national security failure from Congress and the American people,” said US Representative Mike Rogers, a Republican who leads the House Armed Services Committee. — Reuters

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