Friday, February 3, 2023

Chinese surveillance balloon spent time in Canadian airspace: sources

Chinese surveillance balloon spent time in Canadian airspace: sources

Jan 3 2023/Breaking

Ottawa summoned China’s ambassador to Canada on Thursday over reports of a Chinese spy balloon that sources tell Global News spent time in Canadian airspace.

Canadian officials said on Feb. 2 that a high-altitude surveillance balloon was detected and its movements are being actively tracked by NORAD, following questions about American reports of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon over that country.

“Yesterday, China’s Ambassador to Canada was summoned by officials at Global Affairs Canada regarding the situation described in the statement issued by the Department of National Defence,” said Maéva Proteau, spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly, in an email to Global News Friday.

“We will continue to vigorously express our position to Chinese officials through multiple channels.”

READ MORE: Suspected Chinese surveillance balloon flying over U.S., won’t be shot down: Pentagon

Department of National Defence officials said that Canadians are safe and that the federal government is taking steps to ensure the security of its airspace, including the monitoring of a second potential incident.

“Canada’s intelligence agencies are working with American partners and continue to take all necessary measures to safeguard Canada’s sensitive information from foreign intelligence threats,” a spokesperson for the defence department said on Thursday night.

Many details of the incident remain unclear, including when or where the balloon is believed to have entered Canadian airspace.

A high altitude balloon floats over Billings, Mont., on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. The U.S. is tracking a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that has been spotted over U.S. airspace for a couple days, but the Pentagon decided not to shoot it down due to risks of harm for people on the ground, officials said Thursday. (Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via AP)

China’s foreign ministry said on Friday that the balloon was for civilian meteorological and other scientific purposes, and that it regrets that the airship strayed into U.S. airspace. It added that it will continue to maintain communications with the United States to properly handle the unexpected situation.

A senior defence official told Pentagon reporters Thursday that the U.S. has “very high confidence” that the object was a Chinese high-altitude balloon and was flying over sensitive sites to collect information.

Canadian political reaction started pouring in on Friday, with Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre calling the report “outrageous.”

“It’s outrageous, it’s very concerning that a hostile foreign government had a spy balloon in our airspace that continued to transit into the northwestern United States,” he told reporters in Ottawa.

“We as Canadians should never tolerate espionage by foreign regimes and we should work with our partners in the United States to hold the regime in Beijing accountable.”

Click to play video: 'Beijing ‘verifying’ after suspected Chinese spy balloon spotted over U.S.'
Beijing ‘verifying’ after suspected Chinese spy balloon spotted over U.S.

One of the places the balloon was spotted was over the state of Montana, which is home to one of America’s three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.

Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said 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.”

READ MORE: Odds of U.S. military conflict with China ‘very high’, top Republican says

Ryder said similar balloon activity has been seen in the past several years and the government has taken steps to ensure no sensitive information was stolen.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, advised against taking “kinetic action” because of risks to the safety of people on the ground. President Joe Biden accepted that recommendation.

The defence official said the U.S. has “engaged” Chinese officials through multiple channels and communicated the seriousness of the matter.

Click to play video: 'Suspected Chinese surveillance balloon flying over U.S., won’t be shot down: Pentagon'
Suspected Chinese surveillance balloon flying over U.S., won’t be shot down: Pentagon

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was set to visit Beijing this weekend, and his visit would have made him the highest-ranking member of Biden’s administration to visit China. On Friday, his trip was postponed, The Associated Press reported.

A photograph of a large white balloon lingering over the area was captured by The Billings Gazette. The balloon could be seen drifting in and out of clouds and had what appeared to be a solar array hanging from the bottom, said Gazette photographer Larry Mayer.

The balloon’s appearance adds to national security concerns among lawmakers over China’s influence in the U.S., ranging from the prevalence of the hugely popular smartphone app TikTok to purchases of American farmland.

Canadian relations with China have been tense over several years, intensifying in recent months over allegations of attempts to influence and interfere in Canadian affairs.

Click to play video: 'New documents reveal key information of alleged Chinese election interference in Canada’s 2019 election'
New documents reveal key information of alleged Chinese election interference in Canada’s 2019 election

Global News reported on Nov. 7 that Canadian intelligence officials have warned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that China has allegedly been targeting Canada with a vast campaign of attempted foreign interference, and RCMP have asked anyone with experience of Chinese influence through so-called “police stations” believed to be operating in Canada to come forward.

Late last year, Ottawa released its long-awaited Indo-Pacific strategy, with Joly calling China an “increasingly disruptive global power” in a region where multiple countries are showing major economic growth.

READ MORE: U.S. military plane forced to evade close ‘buzz’ by Chinese jet, Pentagon says

“The Indo-Pacific is the fastest growing economic region of the world. By 2030, it will be home to two-thirds of the global middle class and by 2040, it will account for more than half of the global economy,” Joly said.

“Every issue that matters to Canadians, our national security, our economic prosperity, democratic values, climate change or again human rights will be shaped by the relationship Canada has with Indo-Pacific countries.”

US halts Blinken China visit after spy balloon row

  • Published

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has postponed his trip to China after a Chinese spy balloon flew across the US.

A senior State Department official said conditions were not right at this time for what would have been the first high level US-China meeting there in years.

A Chinese apology was noted, the official said, but described the balloon as a clear violation of sovereignty and international law.

The visit was to come amid fraying tensions between the US and China

America's top US diplomat was set to visit Beijing to hold talks on a wide range of issues, including security, Taiwan and Covid-19.

But there was consternation on Thursday when US defence officials announced they were tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon over the United States.

A senior state department official said that the balloon would have "narrowed the agenda" of any meetings with Chinese officials "in a way that would have been unhelpful and unconstructive".

Image caption,
Anthony Blinken was expected in China on 5 and 6 February

While the balloon was, the Pentagon said, "traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic" and did "not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground", its presence sparked outrage.

Former US President Donald Trump was among those calling for the US military to shoot it down.

On Friday, China finally acknowledged the balloon was its property, saying that it was a civilian airship used for meteorological research, which deviated from its route because of bad weather.

A statement from China's Foreign Ministry said that it regretted the incident and would work with the US to resolve the issue.

However, the state department official said that while the US acknowledged China's claim about the balloon's purpose, it stood the assessment that it was being used for surveillance.

Another trip by Mr Blinken to China would be planned "at the earliest opportunity" another senior state department official said, adding that Washington planned to maintain "open lines of communication" about the incident.

The official added that the State Department had informed close US allies about the violation of US airspace.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada - the country's foreign ministry - said that it had summoned China's ambassador over the incident and will "vigorously express" its position to Chinese officials.

Mr Blinken had been expected to visit China on 5 and 6 February.

A US official quoted by the Associated Press said that the decision to abruptly halt the trip was made by Mr Blinken and President Joe Biden.

Mr Biden did not take questions about the balloon following remarks about the US economy on Friday morning.

According to US officials, the balloon flew over Alaska and Canada before appearing in the US state of Montana, which is home to a number of sensitive military missile sites.

By Friday morning, the balloon was somewhere over the "middle of the country", a US official told the BBC's US partner, CBS.

Although fighter planes were alerted, the US decided not to shoot the object down due to the dangers of falling debris, officials said.

Graphic of high altitude balloon, showing helium filled balloon, solar panels and instruments bay which can include cameras, radar and communications equipment. They can fly at heights of 80,000ft-120,000ft, higher than fighter jets and commercial aircraft

Several Republican lawmakers - as well as former President Donald Trump - have criticised the decision and urged the US to down the balloon.

"Shoot down the balloon," Mr Trump said in a short message on his Truth Social social media platform.

On Twitter, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said that the balloon incident was "a destabilizing action that must be addressed".

While US officials have not commented on the size and details of the suspected spy balloon, Chinese officials have previously publicly expressed interest in the potential military and intelligence-gathering potential of balloons.

"Technological advances have opened a new door for the use of balloons," an article in the military-run Liberation Army Daily said last year.

In 2022, Taiwan's defence ministry said it detected Chinese balloons over its territory.

WATCH LIVE: Pentagon holds update amid concerns over suspected spy balloon

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