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Biden says aerial objects 'likely tied to private company'

February 16, 2023

US President Joe Biden addressed concerns after a Chinese spy balloon was shot down earlier this month. Even less is known about other objects that have been shot down after the spy balloon.

U.S. Air Force fighter aircraft shooting down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the Carolina coast on February 4
The Chinese spy balloon was shot down over the coast of South Carolina on February 4Image: Jason Sellers via AP Photo/picture alliance

US President Joe Biden delivered televised remarks from the White House on Thursday, addressing the high-altitude Chinese spy balloon and the three other objects that the US Air Force shot out of the sky afterwards.

The remarks come amid heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing over the alleged espionage balloon.

Biden said that the US intelligence and defense communities are still searching for the debris of the three recent objects that were shot down over the weekend, but they are not believed to be linked to China.

They are "likely tied to private companies or research institutions," he said.

The "intelligence community continues to assess these objects," though "nothing right now suggests that they were related to China's spy balloons or any other country."

"Make no mistake, if any object present a threat to the safety and security of the American people, I will take it down," Biden said.

Biden said that he expected to speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping over the "spy" balloon incident.

"I expect to be speaking with President Xi, I hope we are going to get to the bottom of this, but I make no apologies for taking down that balloon," Biden said.

In comments to the NBC broadcaster, Biden said: “I think the last thing that Xi wants is to fundamentally rip the relationship with the United States and with me."

What has Biden said about the incidents?

Prior to Thursday, Biden has not said much publicly about the objects that have been shot down over North American airspace in both the US and Canada.

Earlier in the week on Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that the military and intelligence agencies tracked the balloon from when it lifted off from China's southern island province of Hainan.

Critics of the Biden administration have slammed him for permitting the balloon to traverse the US mainland. It is the first known peacetime shootdown of an aerial object over the US.

After the 200-foot (60-meter) balloon was shot down, the US Air Force has removed three additional objects from the sky, two in the Arctic North and one that fell into Lake Huron.

John Kirby, the spokesperson for the US National Security Council, said there is still no firm understanding of what those objects were or to what entity they belonged but believes they are most likely "benign" objects.

Biden's National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has announced an interagency task force to examine the findings and come up with guidelines for how to address such incidents in the future.

On Thursday, in his comments at the White House, Biden emphasized that going forward the US will establish a better inventory of objects in US air space, implement further measures to detect unmanned objects, and update rules and regulations for maintaining aerial objects in US air space.

He added the US would be working to stablish common global norms in what he termed a "largely unregulated space."

What is the latest on the 'spy' balloon?

The New York Times reported on Thursday that the spy balloon that had traversed the continental United States before being shot down off the coast of South Carolina was initially alleged to surveil Guam and Hawaii but was blown off course.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has postponed an upcoming trip to Beijing in the wake of the balloon saga. Prior to the incident, both sides had sought to balance competition between the world's first and second largest economies.

Blinken is scheduled to attend the Munich Security Conference this weekend and some have speculated he may hold bilateral talks on the sidelines with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

How has China responded?

Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said at a regular press briefing that the US "should be willing to meet China in the middle, manage differences and appropriately handle isolated, unexpected incidents to avoid misunderstandings and misjudgments; and promote the return of U.S.-China relations to a healthy and stable development track."

China responded to US sanctions against six entities over the spy balloon by adding US defense contractors Lockheed Martin and a unit of Raytheon Technologies to an "unreliable entities list" over the companies' arms sales to Taiwan. The addition to the list bans them from imports and exports related to China.

ar/rs (AFP, AP, Reuters)