US seeks to deflate Chinese balloon worries

WASHINGTON: The White House sought on Tuesday to take the air out of an escalating diplomatic crisis with Beijing, saying that preliminary evidence suggests three unidentified aerial objects shot down by US jets were not involved in a broader Chinese spy balloon programme.
The United States has been in a state of alarm since a huge white balloon from China was spotted tracking over a series of top-secret nuclear weapons sites, before being shot down just off the east coast on February 4.
In the wake of the incident, the US military adjusted radar settings to detect smaller objects and promptly discovered three more unidentified craft that President Joe Biden ordered shot down — one over Alaska, another over Canada and the third over Lake Huron off Michigan.
US authorities “haven’t seen any indication or anything that points specifically to the idea that these three objects were part of [China’s] spy balloon programme or that they were definitely involved in external intelligence”, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said. With Congress, the media and the public speculating over everything from a coordinated Chinese spying offensive to aliens, officials are now stressing that the three new objects appear to be neither Chinese nor involved in spying.
Kirby said they “could be balloons that were simply tied to commercial or research entities and therefore benign.” That “could emerge as a leading explanation here”, he said. Beijing denies it uses spy balloons and says the huge craft shot down off the coast on February 4 was for weather research, while another spotted over South America was for pilot training. –Agencies