A high-altitude balloon, which the U.S. government has stated is Chinese, was shot down off the Carolina coast on Saturday. Photo by Nell Redmond/EPA-EFE
Feb. 4 (UPI) -- China's Embassy in Washington on Saturday said that the country "reserves the right to respond further" after the United States downed a surveillance balloon that had flown over the country this week.
"China expresses its strong dissatisfaction and protest against the U.S.'s use of force to attack civilian unmanned airships," the statement posted to the website for the Chinese Embassy reads.
Chinese officials said that they had "repeatedly" told their U.S. counterparts that the surveillance balloon was for civilian use and entered the airspace above the United States accidentally.
"China clearly requires the U.S. to handle it properly in a calm, professional and restrained manner. A spokesperson for the US Department of Defense also stated that the balloon will not pose a military or personal threat to ground personnel," the statement reads.
"Under such circumstances, the U.S. insists on using force, obviously overreacting and seriously violating international practice. China will resolutely defend the legitimate rights and interests of relevant companies, and reserves the right to respond further."
The United States military on Saturday shot down the suspected spy balloon over the Atlantic Ocean off the North Carolina coast, ending a diplomatic crisis that had lasted several days.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that the mission to take down the balloon was conducted in coordination with the Canadian government.
"We thank Canada for its contribution to tracking and analysis of the balloon through [North American Aerospace Defense Command] as it transited North America," Austin said.
"Today's deliberate and lawful action demonstrates that President Biden and his national security team will always put the safety and security of the American people first while responding effectively to the PRC's unacceptable violation of our sovereignty."
Before the balloon was downed, the Federal Aviation Administration paused departures and arrivals around midday at airports in Wilmington, N.C., and in Myrtle Beach and Charleston in South Carolina.
An operation is reportedly underway now to collect the debris.
"I ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down on Wednesday as soon as possible," President Joe Biden told reporters.
The balloon incident had caused U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone a planned trip to Beijing.
China has repeatedly downplayed the incident, saying that it was not a spy balloon.
A spokesperson for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated its contention on Saturday, claiming the balloon is a "civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes."
"We have no intention to violate and has never violated the territory or airspace of any sovereign country," Chinese officials added.
The Chinese official also said Blinken's planned visit was never actually announced.
"In fact, neither side has ever announced that there would be a visit," the spokesperson said, adding it is the role of diplomats on both sides to deal with "unexpected situations in a cool-headed and prudent manner."
Beijing asserted the balloon incident has been hyped up by media and politicians in the United States.
The Pentagon confirmed Thursday that the U.S. military has been tracking the "high altitude surveillance balloon" flying over the continental United States.
It was first seen flying over Billings, Mont., Wednesday, and by Saturday was seen over North Carolina. Despite speculation that it is a spy balloon, a senior U.S. defense official said it has limited intelligence collection value.
The South China Morning Post reported Saturday that Blinken would likely visit China once the fallout from the balloon incident dies down.
Zhou Chenming, a researcher at the Beijing-based Yuan Wang military technology and science think tank, told the newspaper the controversy was just "a small accident taking place in a sensitive time."
"Beijing is understanding of the postponement," he said.