Regretting the entry of the Chinese airship into US airspace which Washington labelled as a "surveillance" balloon, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China issued a clarification, saying that it is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes.
"The airship is from China. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes. Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course," China's Foreign Ministry said in a statement on the unintended entry of a Chinese unmanned airship into US Airspace.
The Chinese side "regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace," it added. The Chinese side will continue to communicate with the US side and address this unexpected circumstance, the Foreign Ministry's statement said.
Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Pat Ryder, in an official briefing on Thursday said, "The United States Government has detected and is tracking a high altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now. The U.S. government, including NORAD, continues to track and monitor it closely. The balloon is currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground. Instances of this kind of balloon activity have been observed previously over the past several years. Once the balloon was detected, the U.S. government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information."
Replying to a media query about whether they have contacted Chinese officials, Ryder said, "We have engaged PRC officials with urgency through multiple channels. They've been engaged both through their embassy here in Washington and through our embassy in Beijing."
The defence official said the balloon was recently over Montana and that officials were considering bringing the plane down with military assets, but decided against doing so because of the risks associated.
Canada's Department of National Defence on Thursday (local time) also said that it is working with the US to track a high-altitude suspected Chinese surveillance balloon, and it is monitoring a "potential second incident".
"A high-altitude surveillance balloon was detected and its movements are being actively tracked by North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Canadians are safe and Canada is taking steps to ensure the security of its airspace, including the monitoring of a potential second incident," stated the Department of National Defence press release.
NORAD, the Canadian Armed Forces, the Department of National Defence, and other partners have been assessing the situation and working in close coordination.
The Pentagon said that it decided not to shoot the surveillance balloon down over concerns of hurting people on the ground. (ANI)