U.S. still stumped by latest flying objects as friction with China grows

WASHINGTON/BEJING, Feb 13 (Reuters) – The United States said on Monday it still does not know the origin or purpose of three airborne objects shot down by its military over the weekend, as Washington and Beijing dropped allegations about balloons in large exchange height.

While American and Canadian officials struggled to explain the objects’ presence, a White House spokesman stressed that there was no reason to believe they were anything other than man-made.

“There is no evidence of extraterrestrial activity or extraterrestrial activity in these recent shutdowns,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

The saga began with a suspected Chinese spy balloon drifting over the United States, which was shot down by the US military off the coast of South Carolina on February 4th.

Since then, US fighter jets shot down three more mysterious objects over North American airspace starting Friday.

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“We have not yet been able to definitively assess what these recent objects are,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said at a news conference.

US military fighter jets shot down an octagonal object over Lake Huron on Sunday, the Pentagon said. On Friday, an object was shot down over sea ice near Deadhorse, Alaska, and a third, cylindrical object was destroyed over Canada’s Yukon on Saturday.

The debris from the items that weren’t found should “tell us a lot,” Kirby said.

The objects, flying at altitudes between 20,000 and 40,000 feet, were considered a risk to air travel, although they posed no threat to people on the ground. They were also shot down because US authorities could not rule out that they were spying, he said.

A closer examination of the airspace could partially explain why so many new objects have been found. US officials told Reuters that the military has adjusted the way it examines radar data to detect smaller, slower-moving objects.


China said it had no information on any of the three objects. Washington called the first object, the Chinese craft, a surveillance balloon, while China insisted it was a weather surveillance vessel badly off course.

The Chinese balloon sparked an uproar in Washington, rocking the already contentious relationship between the world’s two largest economies and prompting US President Joe Biden’s top diplomat, Antony Blinken, to cancel his scheduled trip to Beijing last week.

China on Monday expanded its dispute with the United States over air surveillance, claiming that US high-altitude balloons have flown over its airspace without permission more than 10 times since early 2022. The White House denied the allegation.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the alleged US balloon flights last year were illegal, but did not describe the balloons as being for military or espionage purposes.

At Friday’s White House briefing, Kirby said, “There are no US surveillance aircraft in Chinese airspace. I am not aware of any other aircraft that we overfly into Chinese airspace.”

When asked if US planes would be deployed over China-claimed airspace in Taiwan and the South China Sea, he declined to provide further details.

China has numerous disputed territorial claims, including in waters in the East and South China Seas, where the US military says it routinely operates under international law.

The White House, which has been trying to contain rhetoric in China after the balloon incident, struck a noticeably harsher tone on Monday.

“This is the latest example of China’s effort to engage in damage control,” Adrienne Watson, another White House national security spokeswoman, said in a statement.

“He has repeatedly and falsely claimed that the surveillance balloon he sent over the United States was a weather balloon, and to date has not provided any credible explanations for its intrusion into our airspace or the airspace of others.”

Asked if the balloon incident and Beijing’s response set back US-China relations, Kirby said during his briefing, “It certainly didn’t help us move forward the way we wanted to.”


As the search continued for the three recently downed objects, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell requested more information from the Biden administration.

“The government has still not been able to provide any meaningful information about what was shot down. What on earth is going on?” McConnell said in the Senate.

In Canada’s Yukon province, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he has been touring with some of the Canadian Armed Forces who will lead recovery efforts on the ground.

Heavy snow made conditions dangerous for the recovery effort in what Trudeau said was a “quite a large area” between Dawson City and Mayo in the central Yukon.

“This is a very serious situation,” Trudeau said, adding that he will speak face-to-face with Biden about the objects in March, when the US President is expected to visit Canada.

A Canadian Coast Guard vessel and two helicopters were helping with the search and recovery in Lake Huron, said Joyce Murray, the country’s Minister for Fisheries and Oceans.

Reporting from Trevor Hunnicutt, Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali, Michael Martina and Katharine Jackson in Washington, Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, Martin Quin Pollard in Beijing; Steve Scherer in Ottawa; writing by Doina Chiacu; Edited by Don Durfee and Cynthia Osterman

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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