China halted spy balloon program some time after US downed device: report

In this photo provided by Chad Fish, the remnants of a large balloon drift above the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of South Carolina, with a fighter jet and its contrail seen below it, Feb. 4, 2023. China said Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, it will “resolutely safeguard its legitimate rights and interests” over the shooting down of a suspected Chinese spy balloon by the United States, as relations between the two countries deteriorate further. (Chad Fish via AP, File)

(The Hill) — China has reportedly stopped its spy balloon operations seven months after one of its balloons was spotted in skies above the U.S.

Sources familiar with China’s spy balloons told CNN that Chinese leaders have made the decision to not launch additional balloons after one was shot down by the U.S. in February. Since then, US officials have not seen any new launches, CNN reported. 

Chinese embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu told CNN that the incident in February was “unexpected” and “isolated.”

“Since the incident happened, China has stated repeatedly that the balloon is found to be an unmanned civilian airship used for meteorological and other research purposes, and that its accidental entry into US airspace is entirely an unexpected, isolated incident caused by force majeure,” Liu told CNN. 

US intelligence officials said they think the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) didn’t intend for the balloon to cross skies in the United States. The balloon took off from the small Chinese province of Hainan and crossed into Alaska, Canada and downward toward Idaho and Montana. 

American fighter jets shot down the balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4. The FBI conducted an analysis of the balloon remnants and the Pentagon announced that no intelligence was gathered. 

CNN reported that it is not known how long China will suspend its spy balloon operations. Christopher Johnson, a former senior China analyst at the CIA and current senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said it might be dependent on how a potential meeting between President Biden and CCP leader Xi Jinping goes. 

They’re each expected to be at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco in November. 

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