China’s Foreign Ministry responded Monday after officials confirmed the country had a second high-altitude balloon currently flying over Latin America, after the separate balloon spotted flying over Montana (pictured) was shot down Saturday. Photo by Nell Redmond/EPA-EFE
Feb. 6 (UPI) -- China's Foreign Ministry on Monday confirmed a second high-altitude balloon currently flying over Latin America, while maintaining it was a civilian aircraft that blew off course.
"It has been verified that the unmanned airship is from China, of civilian nature and used for [a] flight test," ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told a group of reporters Monday morning during a regularly-scheduled news conference.
Mao said the balloon, much like one that was spotted in U.S. airspace last week, "deviated far from its planned course and entered into the airspace of Latin America and the Caribbean" adding that the craft has "limited self-steering capability."
When asked about the purpose of the balloons, Mao asserted that China did not intentionally seek to violate foreign airspace.
"China is a responsible country and always acts in strict accordance with international law. We have informed relevant sides," she said. "It is being properly handled and will not pose any threat to any country. They have expressed their understanding."
She did not specify who "they" referred to and could not confirm or deny if China has lost control of other balloons elsewhere across the world or what caused these two to veer off course.
"I'm not an expert on controlling the ballon, so I'm probably not the right person to answer this question," she said. "But to my knowledge, this is not the first time in the world that balloons for scientific research went out of control."
Colombian military officials and Costa Rica's Civil Aviation Authority both confirmed they tracked a high-altitude balloon last week traversing their airspace, but did not specifically mention China.
Monday is the first time China has acknowledged ownership of what it calls a "weather balloon."
It marks the second Chinese balloon to fly off course that week. The Pentagon confirmed Saturday, it dispatched an F-22 Raptor to shoot down a balloon that was first reported flying over Montana. It was shot down in less than 50 feet of water in the Atlantic Ocean off the North Carolina coast.
"This is a clear overreaction. The Chinese side is firmly opposed to that. The U.S. side needs to stop pushing the envelope and stop escalating or exacerbating the situation. The Chinese side will respond as necessary in light of the development of the situation," Mao told reporters Monday, when asked about China's potential response to the balloon's downing.
This comes after Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng Sunday lodged an official complaint Sunday with the American embassy in China.
"What the United States has done severely impacted and undermined the efforts and progress made by the two sides to stabilize China-US relations since the two countries' leaders met in Bali, Indonesia," Xie said in a statement Sunday, accusing the United States of violating "the spirit of international law."
Since the first report, American officials have contended the balloon was a surveillance aircraft.
"I can't go into more detail, but we were able to study and scrutinize the balloon and its equipment, which has been valuable," Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement Saturday, after it was shot down.
Mao did not explicitly say China would respond in a similar fashion if an American balloon entered Chinese air space.
"What I can tell you is that the unintended entry of the airship is an entirely unexpected, isolated incident caused by force majeure. The U.S. side needs to handle it in a calm, professional and proper manner," she said.