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Biden says no apologies for downing China balloon

Published on 2023-06-04 14:41:54 source:NBC News

President Joe Biden has said he makes no apologies for shooting down an alleged Chinese spy balloon off the coast of the US.

He said the balloon was used for surveillance, but three other objects shot down over North America were unlikely to be foreign spy craft.

The US would now improve its detection of similar aerial objects, he said.

Mr Biden also said he would speak with China's President Xi Jinping soon about this month's incident.

"I hope we are going to get to the bottom of this, but I make no apologies for taking down that balloon," Mr Biden said at the White House on Thursday.

China has denied the balloon was used for surveillance, instead saying it blew off course while collecting weather data.

But Mr Biden reiterated the view of US officials that the balloon, which traversed the country at an altitude of about 40,000ft (12,000m) before being blown out of the sky by a US fighter jet over the Atlantic, was in fact used for spying.

He said the US was continuing to speak with China on the issue. "We are not looking for a new cold war," Mr Biden said.

Joe Biden has been under increasing pressure to talk directly to the public about the alleged Chinese surveillance balloon, as well as the three unidentified objects American fighter jets have scrambled to destroy over the past week.

On Thursday afternoon he did that - but his brief appearance will do very little to silence critics or those asking for more information and explanations.

He shed no light on the nature of those objects and provided no further information about the first Chinese balloon. He didn't discuss when the Chinese balloon was first detected, its intended purpose or recent reports that it had been directed toward the US island of Guam but then changed course. Nor did he say why, after a flurry of incidents last week, no new objects have been targeted.

As an explanatory endeavour, it was weak sauce. And as a public-relations effort, it will probably come up short.

It may calm the waters for now, but the next time a balloon floats across the American sky, or fighters scramble and missiles fly, the questions will return with renewed urgency.

Speaking about three other objects subsequently shot down over Alaska, north-west Canada and Lake Huron on the US-Canada border, Mr Biden said the intelligence community believed they were "most likely balloons tied to private companies, recreation or research institutions".

The president said enhanced radar introduced in response to the Chinese balloon might explain the discovery of the three objects.

"That's why I've directed my team to come back to me with sharper rules for how we will deal with these unidentified objects moving forward, distinguishing between those that are likely to pose safety and security risks that necessitate action and those that do not."

Mr Biden's comments came after the White House felt the need to dispel suggestions the three objects were of extra-terrestrial origin.

Officials said the slow-moving unidentified objects did not pose "any direct threat to people on the ground" and were destroyed "to protect our security, our interests and flight safety".

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which was co-ordinating searches for the objects in Canada, said on Thursday it would suspend the search of Lake Huron, in part due to the low probability of recovery.

On whether he would take similar action again, Mr Biden said: "Make no mistake, if any object presents a threat to the safety and security of the American people I will take it down."

He declined to say when he planned to speak with China's President Xi as he was asked during an interview with NBC News.

"I think the last thing that Xi wants is to fundamentally rip the relationship with the United States and with me," Biden told the broadcaster.

China has repeated its explanation for the balloon shot down on 4 February, with a spokesman telling reporters the US should try to avoid "misunderstandings and misjudgements".

Amid the heightened tensions over US skies, military officials said on Thursday that American warplanes had intercepted Russian jets flying near Alaska for a second time this week.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (Norad), which is jointly run by the US and Canada, said in a statement that it was a "routine" contact with the Russians.

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