The Chinese spy balloon shot down Saturday by a US fighter jet off the coast of South Carolina was the product of a factory based at a naval base on a remote island in the communist nation, it has been revealed.
A new Washington Post report indicates that the airship, which sparked a dramatic and public espionage saga that soured China-US relations, has been a key part of Beijing’s intelligence operations for years.
The report says the Chinese military has previously sent balloons into the skies of geopolitical rivals such as Japan, India and the Philippines.
The Pentagon previously said at least four other balloons had previously been detected over US airspace, in Hawaii, Florida, Texas and Guam, three of them during Donald Trump’s presidency.
Last Friday, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken postponed his trip to China hours before he was due to leave because of the balloon. On Tuesday, China’s defense minister rejected an overture from US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to discuss the past week’s events.
Yulin Naval Base on Hainan Island, where the country’s balloon program is based
Defense Minister Lloyd Austin pictured with Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe in November 2022. On Tuesday, Fenghe declined a call from Austin about the balloon
The Pentagon said in a statement: “Lines between our armies are particularly important at times like this. Unfortunately, the People’s Republic of China rejected our request. Our commitment to open lines of communication will continue,” Politico said.
A senior official told the Post that China’s airship program represents a “massive effort” within the country’s espionage programs. The program is based at Yulin Naval Base on Hainan Island on China’s southern coast.
While a Japanese official told the newspaper that a sphere was spotted over the country in 2020, which many believed to be a UFO. That official said, “In retrospect, people realize it was a Chinese espionage tool. But at the time it was purely new – no one had seen this.’
Intelligence officials have no estimate of how many spy balloons the Chinese military possesses. However, an official did use the word ‘dozens’ when asked how many sightings there have been in recent years, according to the Post.
The paper further reported that in June 2022, a spy balloon crashed in Hawaii. As a result, the US military was able to release valuable information about Chinese military technology.
Speaking of the benefits of using a balloon for espionage purposes rather than more advanced technology, retired Air Force Lieutenant General Charlie “Tuna” Moore said, “If you have a balloon that moves extremely slowly, you have persistence that you can’t get from a satellite.’
Moore added that satellites typically have only seconds to take pictures of their targets.
One of the Chinese nuclear submarines at the Yulin naval base on Hainan Island
Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong at Yulin Naval Base
This week, Biden officials in Washington and Beijing held briefings with foreign diplomats from 40 countries about the balloon.
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman briefed nearly 150 foreign diplomats across 40 embassies on Monday, an official said, while in Beijing, the US embassy gathered foreign diplomats on Monday and Tuesday to present US findings about the balloon.
“We want to make sure we share as much as possible with countries around the world that may also be susceptible to this type of operation,” the senior government official said.
China has said it was a weather balloon that had blown off course in US airspace and was an “unexpected, isolated incident.” It condemned the shooting and accused the United States of overreacting.
Officials said the first spy balloon to travel across the US fell six miles off the coast of South Carolina in waters about 14 feet deep. They noted that an actual salvage vessel will not be on site for days as the race is on to secure the wreck.
At the Beijing briefings, the United States presented information to show that the balloon, which entered US airspace in the last days of January and flew over US military sites, was not a weather research balloon, as Beijing said, but an airship used for espionage, said diplomats in Beijing who attended the talks.
The diplomats at the Beijing briefing said they were told the balloon’s solar panels meant it needed more power than a weather balloon, and that its flight path was inconsistent with natural wind patterns.
US officials have said the balloon was fitted with rudders and propellers.
“Based on the US briefing, our own understanding of such balloons, and the fact that China has so far declined to name the company or entity that owns this balloon, we find it hard to believe that it is a civilian weather balloon. said a Beijing-based Asian defense diplomat.
An F-22 Raptor fighter jet fired a single AIM-9X missile to bring down a Chinese spy balloon and its payload, which was equipped with cameras, sensors and radars
The spy balloon will be launched over South Carolina on Saturday
The information was similar to what the Pentagon has shared with reporters since the weekend, saying the balloons were part of a Chinese air fleet that has also violated the sovereignty of other countries.
On Tuesday, Navy divers began pulling pieces of the balloon from the depths of the ocean floor on Tuesday, using advanced reconnaissance drones called the Kingfish and the Swordfish to locate the debris.
After collecting all of the balloon’s white dust and shell structure floating on the surface, the Navy has now moved on to an underwater search for the remains of the massive balloon.
Navy and Coast Guard personnel used underwater drones to locate and map the debris field, and divers were in the water collecting what they could, officials said.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF SPY BALLOON SIGHTINGS
Under Donald Trump
Under Joe Biden
Early 2021: Over mainland US
Oct 2022: Balloon crashed near Hawaii
January-February 2023: Balloon flies over the US, from Alaska to South Carolina, and is shot down on February 4
February 2023: Balloon flying over South America, spotted over northern Colombia
The debris already collected was transported by small boats to a few locations in the area, including a Coast Guard station south of Myrtle Beach, and will eventually go to the FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia, or other locations, depending on size where experts can analyze it, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to provide details of an ongoing military operation.
The head of US Northern Command, General Glen VanHerck, who is in charge of the recovery effort, and several officials from the Biden administration will brief members of Congress on Wednesday and Thursday about the balloon.
Lawmakers have raised a number of questions about whether the balloon was able to collect and send information back to China during the time it traveled east across the United States, after crossing the border from Canada into Idaho.
White House and Pentagon officials have largely avoided giving details about the balloon’s capabilities.
In December, a Chinese fighter jet came within 20 feet of a U.S. Air Force plane in the disputed South China Sea last week, forcing it to evade maneuvers to avoid a deadly collision in international airspace, the U.S. military said. at the time.
The meeting followed what the United States calls a recent trend of increasingly dangerous behavior by Chinese military aircraft.
The incident, involving a Chinese Navy J-11 fighter jet and a US Air Force RC-135 aircraft, occurred on December 21, the US military said in a statement.
The video shows the J-11 flying close, almost alongside the RC-135, as the Chinese jet closes in, forcing the American pilot to quickly descend away from the other plane.