The United States military has shot down the controversial Chinese spy balloon traversing parts of the country in the last week. The surveillance balloon went down on Saturday afternoon after it was shot by a US fighter jet off the Coast of South Carolina at about 2:39 p.m.
President Biden said he gave the order to shoot down the balloon as early as Wednesday as soon as he was briefed about the invading surveillance equipment, adding that the Pentagon recommended said it would do so once it was safe.
“On Wednesday when I was briefed on the balloon, I ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down as soon as possible,” Biden told reporters on Saturday.
“They decided, without doing damage to anyone on the ground, they decided that the best time to do that was as it got over water … within a 12-mile limit. They successfully took it down and I want to compliment our aviators who did it,” Biden added.
When asked if the national security team recommended the shooting down the balloon, President Biden replied: “I told them to shoot it down. They said to me, ‘Let’s wait for the safest place to do it.’”
Earlier reports suggested that the US would not shoot down the surveillance balloon because the debris could cause civilian casualties. Saturday’s development means the decision to shoot it down was made on Wednesday, and everyone was waiting for the right time to strike.
Although the debris and particles of the balloon fell into the waters, divers from the US marine have begun the search for them. An official of the US Navy said the remains landed about 47 feet under the water, a depth not too difficult for divers to handle. The team had already secured the area and urged civilians to keep off. However, the official could not say how long the job would take but said it would take “a relatively short time” to get it done.
What will happen to the remains of the balloon?
Whenever the Navy successfully retrieves the remains of the surveillance balloon, whatever the team recovers would be taken to an FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia. At the Lab, FBI experts and other related agencies would conduct a thorough analysis of the object and its particles.
As of Saturday afternoon, officials of the US Defense Department have begun collaborating with officers of the FBI and counterintelligence units in the investigation process.
Biden waited for too long, Republicans opined
Members of the Republican party have called out President Biden for waiting for so long before shooting down the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon. For them, the Commander-In-Chief should have ordered the shooting of the spy balloon much earlier.
“The balloon should have been shot down before it crossed the continental United States, not after. We still don’t know what information was collected and where it was sent. This was a dereliction of Biden’s duty, and let’s hope the American people don’t pay a price,” Republican Senator, Jim Scott, wrote.
Republican Rep, Jim Jordan, wrote: “Would Trump have let China fly a spy balloon over our country? Would Reagan? JFK? Truman? No, no, and no.”
Like the two officials, other Republicans said a Republican President, including Donald Trump, would have taken quicker action if it happened under their government. However, top officials of the US Defense Ministry said similar balloons flew over the country at least twice under Trump’s administration. They, however, admitted that this was the first time a piece of Chinese surveillance equipment was flying for at least four days in US airspace.
While Biden is being criticised, members of the Democratic party and top government officials are commending the President for prioritising the lives of American citizens.
A responsible decision
A senior White House Offical has come to the defence of President Biden for not ordering the shooting down of the invading balloon until it was safe to do so. The official told CNN that the president directed the military not to take it down until it is safe to do so above the waters.
“This is the responsible action for the Commander in Chief to take. He prioritised the safety of the American people. He ensured that the military take steps to protect against the balloon’s collection of sensitive information, mitigating any intelligence value to the PRC. And, we were able to track the balloon (and) get information on it,” the official added.
Although the Chinese government said the balloon was “civilian in nature,” the United States has maintained that it was used by the Chinese government to surveil strategic sites in the continental United States.
Lloyd Austin, the US Secretary of Defense, reiterated the statement on Saturday following the shooting down of the surveillance balloon. He added that its movement was closely monitored before it was safely brought down.
“Today’s deliberate and lawful action demonstrates that President Biden and his national security team will always put the safety and security of the American people first while responding effectively to [China’s] unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” Austin stated said.
China says the US overreacted
Following the shooting down of the controversial balloon, the Chinese government said it was disappointed by the action of the US government while insisting once again that the object meant no harm.
“China expresses its strong dissatisfaction and protest against the US’s use of force to attack civilian unmanned aircraft. The Chinese side has repeatedly informed the US side after verification that the airship is for civilian use and entered the US due to force majeure – it was completely an accident,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement on Sunday morning.
The statement argued that the US should have allowed the balloon to fly past without bringing it down after it confirmed that it would not pose a military or personal threat to ground personnel. It added that China reserved the right “to make a further necessary reaction.”
On Thursday, the Chinese foreign ministry said the balloon was for civilian research purposes and was not meant for the US airspace but was pushed into it by a strong wind.