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The US military shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the Carolina coast.
It comes as airstrips along the coast of North and South Carolina are closed amid national security operations.
US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that President Joe Biden had given the green light for the operation to go ahead.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a ground stop affecting three airports in North and South Carolina as the balloon drifted through its airspace, a spokeswoman said.
“The FAA has halted departures at Wilmington (ILM), Myrtle Beach International (MYR) and Charleston International (CHS) airports to support the Department of Defense in a national security effort,” the statement said.
The balloon is suspected of spying on the US military.
Four U.S. officials previously said there were plans to bring the balloon down over the ocean to recover its remains, the Associated Press reported.
The planes were seen circling before bringing the balloon down off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on Saturday afternoon.
Mr Biden said earlier on Saturday that the US would “take care” of the Chinese spy balloon.
Mr. Biden was answering questions from a reporter as he boarded his car at an airfield in Syracuse, New York, where the president was meeting with members of his family.
CNN asked him if the US would shoot down the balloon.
“We’re going to take care of it,” the president said.
Mr. Biden has been looking at options with military leaders since his initial briefing in the balloon on Tuesday.
Advisors warn against shooting it into the ground because the debris could injure people or damage homes. Military leaders say the risk to people on the ground outweighs potential intelligence from China.
Many Chinese social media users appeared to agree with the Chinese government’s position that the US was overhyping the situation.
Many account holders joked about the spy balloons, and others suggested that because the United States has placed restrictions on the type of technology China can purchase, they are unable to control the balloons, the Associated Press reported.
Some users refer to it as the “Wandering Balloon” in reference to the recently released Chinese sci-fi movie The Wandering Earth 2.
Some derided the United States for not being able to prevent the balloon from entering its airspace. Several nationalist influences used the story to poke fun at the United States.
“US, because of balloon incident, delays Blinken’s visit to China,” wrote one.
Censorship was quickly deployed on social media platform Weibo by Saturday night with the hashtag “wandering balloon”.
Chen Haoong, a Chinese military expert, appeared on the country’s largest TV channel, Phoenix TV, to push back against the US response to the discovery of a Chinese spy balloon in US skies.
“The United States is promoting this as a national security threat to China, this kind of military threat, in reality we have not done it. And compared to the US military threats generally aimed at us, can you say it’s little? Their surveillance aircraft, their submarines, their naval ships are all approaching our borders,” the expert said, according to the Associated Press.
Top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi said on Saturday that China has “always strictly followed international law”.
He added that “We do not accept any baseless speculations and propaganda. When faced with unexpected situations, both parties should remain calm, communicate in a timely manner, avoid misunderstandings and manage differences”.
He said the balloon’s trajectory was beyond China’s control, and he urged the United States not to “stigmatize” the country based on recent events.
China said it was “regrettable” that the balloon had inadvertently entered US airspace.
Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore, said the apology seemed disingenuous.
“In the meantime, relations will not improve in the near future … the gap is huge,” he said, according to the Associated Press.
China has cut short US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s canceled visit following the discovery of a Chinese spy balloon over US airspace.
China’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday that “in reality, the US and China have never announced any visit, any such announcement by the US is their own business, and we respect that”.
Mr Blinken will travel to China on Sunday to discuss easing tensions between the two countries. It will be the first visit by a top diplomat since President Xi Jinping and Joe Biden met in Indonesia in November.
More to follow…
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