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US: Chinese Balloon Is part of Large Spying Program

This image provided by the U.S. Navy shows sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recovering a high-altitude surveillance balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach, S.C., Feb. 5, 2023. (U.S. Navy via AP)
US: Chinese Balloon Is part of Large Spying Program
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The United States has met with diplomats from 40 nations to share information about the Chinese spy balloon program.

A top U.S. official and diplomats said U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman briefed nearly 150 foreign diplomats. The reports took place at 40 embassies over two days this week. The goal was to present U.S. findings about the balloon.

"We want to make sure that we are sharing as much as we can with countries around the world who may also be susceptible to these types of operations," the senior administration official said.

Sherman's briefing was first reported by The Washington Post newspaper. The report quoted U.S. officials saying the balloon was linked to an extensive military spying effort centered on China's Hainan Island in the South China Sea.

Experts do not yet know the size of the Chinese balloon fleet. But U.S. officials spoke of several flights since 2018 targeting Japan, India, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines. The operations involved technology from a private Chinese company that is part of China's military-civilian system.

The appearance of the Chinese balloon over the U.S. last week caused anger and led U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel a trip to Beijing. China and the U.S. had hoped the visit would help ease tensions between the two countries.

A U.S. Air Force fighter plane shot down the balloon off the South Carolina coast on Saturday, a week after it first entered U.S. airspace.

China claimed it was a weather balloon that had gone into U.S. airspace because of winds. Chinese officials condemned the shoot-down and accused the United States of overreacting.

But a U.S. official told Reuters on Monday that the balloon was controlled. The official said, "We saw it do that… It went left, right. We saw it maneuver inside the jet stream. That's how it was operating.”

Map shows path of suspected spy balloon.
Map shows path of suspected spy balloon.

Spy airship

Foreign diplomats in Beijing said the U.S. presented information to demonstrate that the balloon was not a weather research balloon as China said. The U.S. said it was an airship that was used for spying. The U.S. said that the balloon was controlled by China's military, the People's Liberation Army.

The diplomats said they were told by the U.S. that the solar panels on the balloon meant that it needed more power than a weather balloon. The balloon was also equipped with rudders and propellers. And its flight path did not follow natural wind patterns.

A Beijing-based Asian defense diplomat told Reuters, "Based on the U.S. briefing, our own understanding about such balloons and the fact that China has so far refused to name the company or entity that owns this balloon, we find it hard to believe it is a civilian weather balloon.”

Reporters asked if Taiwan had been briefed by the United States. Taiwan's foreign ministry said in a statement to Reuters: "We have always maintained close contact with the United States and continue to exchange views on interactions between the United States and China."

The information was similar to what U.S. defense officials have shared with reporters since the weekend. They said the balloons were part of a Chinese fleet that has also violated the airspace of other countries.

FILE - In this photo provided by Chad Fish, the remnants of a large balloon drift above the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of South Carolina, with a fighter jet and its contrail seen below it, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (Chad Fish via AP)
FILE - In this photo provided by Chad Fish, the remnants of a large balloon drift above the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of South Carolina, with a fighter jet and its contrail seen below it, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (Chad Fish via AP)

Earlier this week, Japan said flying objects like the one shot down by the U.S. have been seen at least two times over northern Japan since 2020.

On Monday, China confirmed that another balloon recently spotted over Latin America was Chinese. China described it as a civilian airship used for flight tests. A foreign ministry official said the balloon entered the air space of Latin America and the Caribbean Sea by accident.

In Taiwan, local media have reported that mysterious white balloons have been seen over the island at least three times in the past two years.

I’m Faith Pirlo.

Hai Do adapted this report for VOA Learning English from Associated Press and Reuters sources.


Words in This Story

susceptible –adj. easily affected by some influence or action

type –n. a particular kind of thing

solar panel –n. a device that collects solar energy and changes it into electricity

rudder –n. a part of ship, boat or airplane that is used to control left and right movement

propeller –n. a part of an airplane, helicopter or powered boat with two or more blades that causes the vehicle to move

pattern –n. something that happens in a regular or normal way

maneuver –v. to move in a skillful or controlled way

jet stream –v. one of several strong currents of air that travel around the Earth’s surface

entity –n. (formal, legal) something that exists by itself and can interact with other things such as a person or organization

fleet –v. a group of ships or certain other vehicles that are controlled by one company or government


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