What’s next in the saga of the suspected Chinese spy balloon : NPR

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President Biden speaks to reporters after arriving in Hagerstown, Md., on Saturday. He congratulated the aviators who landed the Chinese balloon.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

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Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden speaks to reporters after arriving in Hagerstown, Md., on Saturday. He congratulated the aviators who landed the Chinese balloon.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

The balloon is down.

On Saturday the US military shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina, after it had traveled across much of the US, attracting the attention of residents and the media in the same way.

China said the balloon was a meteorological research vessel that drifted off course and expressed “strong dissatisfaction and protest” over its downing.

Now the US military is left to literally pick up the pieces of the wreckage, as diplomats and members of Congress express concern about the incident.

Here’s the end:

US officials are working to investigate the balloon’s wreckage

Top US officials say they were able to learn about the Chinese surveillance balloon by following it around the country, and now they hope to learn more by examining the debris left after a fighter jet shot it down from -heaven on Saturday.

Jo background briefing on Saturday, two US defense officials said they were working with the FBI and counterintelligence authorities to recover as much debris from the balloon as possible, including any equipment that was on board and ” any material of intelligence value.”

A senior defense official said the administration had several days to investigate what the balloon was doing and how – as well as why China might have sent it in the first place.

“We don’t know exactly all the benefits that will come out. But we have learned technical things about this balloon and its surveillance capabilities,” said the senior defense official. “And I suspect that if we managed to recover aspects of the debris, we would learn even more.”

Authorities said they could use unmanned underwater vessels that could raise the structure to the surface and place it on a rescue ship. Navy divers were also available. The debris sank in 47 feet of water, making the recovery effort easier than originally expected.

China denied that the balloon was used for spying and instead said it was conducting weather research.

James Flaten, a University of Minnesota professor who works with NASA to teach students to use high-altitude balloons, told NPR that it would be possible for a high-altitude balloon launched from China to reach the United States, but he added that China may not have had much control over its path at such high altitudes.

“I’m not saying they’re telling the truth,” Flaten said, “I’m just saying this is a plausible story.”

Diplomacy between the United States and China is again up in the air

The balloon’s intrusion into US airspace has sparked a planned meeting of high-level officials from the US and China, and it is unclear if or when the trip will be rescheduled .

On Friday, as the balloon floated some 60,000 feet above the continental United States, Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a trip to China.

Although there has been speculation that China sent the balloon over North America on purpose, some doubt that the country was trying to provoke the United States at the very moment it was set to host the country’s top diplomat. -country.

“China has an interest in bringing a little more stability to the relationship,” Dave Shullman, senior director of the China Global Hub at the Atlantic Council, told NPR’s Weekend Edition.

Shullman said China is hoping to mend its relationship with the United States as it grapples with some vexing domestic issues, such as its ongoing efforts to stop the spread of COVID and strengthen its economy.

With that background, it would have been strange for China to intentionally sabotage Blinken’s trip, Shullman suggested. “I think they genuinely wanted this visit to go well,” he added.

Blinken he said he was still willing to “visit Beijing as soon as conditions permit.” But Shullman noted that China’s annual legislative session is scheduled for March and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is rumored to travel to Taiwan in April, which could further strain ties between the states. United States and China.

The response from Congress fell along party lines

Republicans criticized the Biden administration for not firing the balloon earlier, before it could pass through several states and slide over sensitive military installations.

The Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, he told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday that he believed China was trying to gather intelligence on US military sites.

“If you look down the road, and put X’s where all our sensitive missile defense and nuclear weapons facilities are located, I believe they were trying to get information on how to defeat the command and control of the our nuclear weapons systems and our missile defense systems,” Turner said. “That’s a crisis.”

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he said in an appearance on ABC’s This week who thinks that China was trying to embarrass the United States and distort its power on the world stage.

“This was intentional. They did this on purpose,” Rubio said. “The message they were trying to send is what they believe internally, which is that the United States is a once-great superpower that is empty, that it is declining.”

But the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut, praised the handling of the air accident by the Biden administration.

“For all the nonsense and deceitful posturing we’ve endured, it’s been handled with textbook competence,” Himes he tweeted. “We saw this thing and its capabilities and then landed it where it was safe and maximally recoverable. [counter-intelligence] purposes. Ours now.”

House Minority Leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries thanked President Biden and the military for “putting the safety of the American people first.”

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