Chinese-American relations continue to worsen, with China now claiming that spy balloons belonging to the US entered Chinese airspace without permission more than ten times last year.
Beijing’s claims come shortly after an American fighter jet shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina on 4 February after hovering for days over the continental US.
Since then, US aircraft have shot down a further three unidentified flying objects (UFOs) over US and Canadian airspace. The appearance of the UFOs has fueled speculation about espionage, military activity, and even extraterrestrial life.
China claims US spy balloons entered Chinese airspace
February has been a tense month for relations between China and the US. On February 4, US President Joe Biden ordered an Air Force F-22 Raptor to neutralize the balloon, which was allegedly conducting surveillance for the Chinese government over sensitive US military sites.
US intelligence officials believe that the balloon was sent by China for espionage purposes. China has vigorously denied this claim and has instead insisted that it was a weather balloon thrown off course.
A further three UFOs have been shot down by US aircraft, but US and Canadian officials are not yet sure what these objects were or who they belonged to.
When asked about the incident on Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said, “It’s not uncommon as well for the US to illegally enter the airspace of other countries.”
“Since last year alone, US balloons have illegally flown above China more than 10 times without any approval from Chinese authorities,” Wang Wenbin continued.
“The first thing the US side should do is start with a clean slate, undergo some self-reflection, instead of smearing and accusing China,” he added. “If you want to know more about US high-altitude balloons illegally entering China’s airspace, I suggest you refer to the US side,”
The balloon incident has done little to improve the already fragile state of relations between Beijing and Washington, which have been worsening for several years. The US denied allegations that it used surveillance balloons to spy on China.
“Any claim that the US government operates surveillance balloons over the PRC is false. It is China that has a high-altitude surveillance balloon program for intelligence collection, that it has used to violate the sovereignty of the US and over 40 countries across 5 continents,” tweeted National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson.
Any claim that the US government operates surveillance balloons over the PRC is false. It is China that has a high-altitude surveillance balloon program for intelligence collection, that it has used to violate the sovereignty of the US and over 40 countries across 5 continents. https://t.co/VzPceB6JUh
— Adrienne Watson (@NSC_Spox) February 13, 2023
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was scheduled to visit China for diplomatic meetings this month but canceled the trip after the first balloon incident. Blinken described the alleged high-altitude surveillance as “unacceptable and irresponsible”.
Speculation and conspiracy theories
Whilst the US and China continue to level accusations at each other, the appearance of four UFOs – or unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) as they are referred to by the US government – over American and Canadian airspace have fuelled less orthodox theories.
A quick search on social media into the phenomenon will reveal several conspiracy theories. Some online commentators are entertaining the idea of extraterrestrial life, whereas others think the appearance of the balloon and subsequent UFOs are all part of a government PSYOP (psychological operation).
On Sunday, Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, refused to rule out any possibility, including an extraterrestrial origin, regarding the three aerial objects downed since the appearance of the balloon on February 4.
However, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre dismissed the idea that the objects were extraterrestrial in a subsequent press conference on Monday.
“I know there have been questions and concerns about this, but there is no — again no indication — of aliens or extraterrestrial activity with these recent takedowns,” Jean-Pierre said. “I wanted to make sure that the American people knew that, all of you knew that and it was important for us to say that from here because we’ve been hearing a lot about it.”