A Chinese balloon over the territory of the US state of Montana, February 1, 2023.
Washington/Beijing/Tokyo – The United States suspects the Chinese military of controlling large-scale espionage operations using balloons like the one the Americans shot down over the weekend after flying over the US. The US State Department told the media today that spy balloons linked to the military were operating around the world. According to Japan's Kyodo news agency, previously unnamed Chinese officials confirmed that China's space and cyber warfare forces were involved in the balloon operation over the US.
Beijing officially rejects claims of espionage using such devices. According to the Chinese government, the downed device was used for purely civilian purposes, specifically for meteorological research. Simultaneously with the resulting diplomatic rift, information is multiplying about other such overflights observed in recent years over American territory and elsewhere, or last week over Costa Rica and Colombia.
China has admitted that the balloon over Latin America is its own, and Costa Rica has apologized for flying over the object. Phenomena of this kind were also recorded by Japan, which today confirmed that it had discovered a similar object over its territory last year as well. So far, it has only provided information about balloons from 2020 and 2021.
“Japan is working with Washington to determine whether the balloon seen in January 2022 was Chinese and similar to the one shot down by the US off its coast on Saturday ,” State Secretary of the Japanese government Hirokazu Matsuno said today.
The US government soon came out with the claim that Beijing had an extensive aerial espionage program linked to the Chinese military. According to Washington, more than 40 countries on five continents have already become targets of this operation. According to The Washington Post, China has been collecting information on military installations abroad for years, particularly in Japan, India, Vietnam, and the Philippines and Taiwan, with the help of an extensive surveillance program.
The uproar over alleged Chinese espionage began last week when images of an unidentified white object appeared over the US state of Montana. Washington identified it as a spy balloon and shot it down on Saturday when it came over the Atlantic Ocean. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a planned visit to Beijing as a result of the incident.
The U.S. Department of State recently said that the downed device was equipped with a technique to record communications signals and that its equipment did not match that of a weather balloon. The US is now “convinced” that the company that produced it had direct business relations with the Chinese military.
China today called Washington's claims about a multi-year surveillance program an “information war against China”. At the same time, Chinese government spokeswoman Mao Ning reiterated that the balloon over the US was a purely civilian object.
At today's hearing in the US Senate, US Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman presented last week's incident as an example of Beijing's efforts to “reshape international order”, Reuters reported.