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Biden says three objects shot over North America appear to not be part of China's spy balloon operation

US President Joe Biden said the aerial objects shot down were most likely tied to private companies, recreation, or research institutions
Last Updated 17 February 2023, 12:59 IST

The three high-flying objects which were shot down over American and Canadian airspaces this month were not related to China's spy balloon programme, but most likely tied to private companies, recreation, or research institutions, said US President Joe Biden.

Biden made the statements in his speech at the White House on Thursday, his first one after a Chinese spy balloon was shot down over the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of South Carolina on February 4. Three other high-flying objects were shot down by American fighter jets - two in the US and one in Canada.

Biden reiterated the view of US officials that the huge balloon, which traversed the country at an altitude of about 40,000ft before being blown out of the sky by a US fighter jet over the Atlantic, was in fact used for spying.

"The US and Canadian military are seeking to recover the debris so they can learn more about these three objects. The intelligence community is still assessing all three incidents. They're reported to him daily and will continue their urgent efforts to do so, and he will communicate that to the Congress," Biden said.

"We don't yet know exactly what these three objects were, but nothing right now suggests they were related to China's spy balloon programme or that they were surveillance vehicles from any other country," he said.

"The intelligence community's current assessment is that these three objects were most likely balloons tied to private companies, recreation, or research institutions studying weather or conducting other scientific research," Biden said.

By shooting down the Chinese spy balloon, Biden said has sent "a clear message that the violation of our sovereignty was unacceptable. We'll act to protect our country and we did."

Biden said he expects to speak with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on the issue, which has increased the tensions between the US and China.

"And I hope we are going to get to the bottom of this, but I make no apologies for taking down that balloon," he added.

China has repeated its explanation for the balloon shot down on February 4, with a foreign ministry spokesman saying the US should try to avoid "misunderstandings and misjudgements".

China has accused the US of "illegally" flying high-altitude balloons into its airspace more than 10 times since January 2022. The White House has dismissed Beijing's claims.

President Biden said that when he assumed office in 2021, he instructed the intelligence community to take a broad look at the phenomenon of unidentified aerial objects.

"We know that a range of entities, including countries, companies, and research organizations, operate objects at altitudes for purposes that are not nefarious, including legitimate scientific research. I want to be clear. We don't have any evidence that there has been a sudden increase in the number of objects in the sky," he said.

"We're now just seeing more of them partially because of the steps we've taken to narrow our radars. We have to keep adapting our approach in dealing with these challenges. That's why I've directed my team to come back to me with sharper rules for how we will deal with these unidentified objects moving forward, distinguishing between those that are likely to pose safety and security risks that necessitate action and those that do not," he said.

Biden at the same time asserted that the US will shoot down any object that threatens American security.

"If any object presents a threat to the safety and security of the American people, I will take it down. I'll be sharing with Congress these classified policy parameters when they are completed, and they'll remain classified, so we don't give our roadmap to our enemies to try to evade our defences," he said.

Biden's comments came after the White House apparently felt the need to dispel suggestions the three high-flying objects were of extra-terrestrial origin.

The President shared details of the policy parameters adding that he has directed his national security advisor to lead a government-wide effort to make sure they are positioned to deal safely and effectively with the objects in US airspace.

"First, we will establish a better inventory of unmanned airborne objects in space above the United States airspace and make sure that inventory is accessible and up to date. Second, we will implement further measures to improve our capacity to detect unmanned objects in our airspace. Third, we'll update the rules and regulations for launching and maintaining unmanned objects in the skies above the United States of America," Biden said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, he said, will lead an effort to help establish a common global norm in this largely unregulated space. "These steps will lead to safer and more secure skies for air travellers, military, scientists, and for people on the ground as well."

"As the events of the previous days have shown, we'll always act to protect the interests of the American people and the security of the American people. Since I came to office, we've developed the ability to identify, track, and study high altitude surveillance balloons connected with the Chinese military," Biden said.

Secretary of State Blinken postponed his planned trip to Beijing earlier this month in response to the flying of the Chinese spy balloon over the United States, signalling a significant new phase in the tensions between the US and China.

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(Published 17 February 2023, 11:49 IST)

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