The United States has shot down a large Chinese balloon that floated across the country. The US believes China used the balloon for spying. Relations between the two countries were already tense. The disagreement over the balloon has made things worse.
International law says that the airspace over a country belongs to it, just like its land does. Aircraft from other countries can’t enter this space without permission.
The US military first noticed the huge Chinese balloon flying over Alaska on January 28. After flying briefly over Canada, the balloon again came into US airspace in Idaho. This surprised the US military, which was tracking the balloon carefully.
Last Wednesday, news groups learned of the balloon over Montana, and began reporting on it.
The US military believes China was using the balloon to spy on the US. The balloon crossed into the country in an area where the US has many weapons, including long range nuclear missiles.
US President Joe Biden told the military to keep watching the balloon, and make sure it couldn’t communicate, or spy on anything important while it was over the country.
China doesn’t usually apologize for its actions. But this time, China’s government said that it was sorry. China claimed the balloon was meant for studying weather, and had been blown off course.
But the balloon was far larger and flew further than most weather balloons. It also seemed to have more control over where it went than China admitted.
The balloon’s size was one reason it wasn’t shot down right away. The container being carried by the balloon was the size of three buses. There was a high risk of people being injured if the balloon was shot down over land.
On Saturday, the balloon drifted over the Atlantic Ocean near South Carolina, and the US Air Force shot it down. Wreckage from the balloon was spread out over 7 miles (11 kilometers).
The US Navy is working to recover as much of the balloon as possible. They want to study the devices the balloon was carrying. China wants the balloon returned, but the US says it has no plans to give the balloon back.
The US military says this is the fifth time China has sent a balloon like this over the US since 2017. Currently, there is also a similar Chinese balloon over Central and South America.
Many people are puzzled over why China sent the balloon. Balloons have been used for spying during wartime since the 1800s. But these days, it’s much more common to use satellites and drones for spying.
Some people believe China was trying to test, upset, or embarrass the US. Others think a small group in China’s government may be trying to damage relations between China and the US on purpose.
The balloon has certainly made relations between the US and China much more tense.
Last weekend, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was scheduled to fly to China to meet with Chinese president Xi Jinping. It was the first time such a trip was planned since 2018.
But Mr. Blinken canceled the trip because of the balloon. Now it’s not clear when the two countries will next hold high-level meetings again.