The Chinese spy balloon that was shot down by a US fighter jet off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday was the product of a factory based out of a naval base on a remote island in the Communist nation, it has been revealed.
A new report from the Washington Post details that the airship, which triggered a dramatic, and public, spying saga that worsened Chinese-U.S. relations, has been a key part of Beijing’s intelligence operations for years.
The report says that the Chinese military has previously sent balloons into the airspace of geopolitical rivals such as Japan, India and the Philippines.
The Pentagon earlier said that at least four other balloons were previously detected over US airspace, in Hawaii, Florida, Texas and Guam, three of those were during Donald Trump’s presidency.
Last Friday, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken postponed his trip to China hours before he was due to leave because of the balloon. While on Tuesday, China’s defense minster rejected an overture from US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to discuss the events of the last week.
Yulin Naval Base on Hainan Island, where the country’s balloon program is based out of
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin pictured with Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe in November 2022. On Tuesday, Fenghe rejected a call from Austin over the balloon
The Pentagon said in a statement: ‘Lines between our militaries are particularly important in moments like this. Unfortunately, the PRC has declined our request. Our commitment to open lines of communication will continue,’ reports Politico.
One senior official told the Post that China’s airship program represents a ‘massive effort’ within the country’s espionage programs. The program is based of the Yulin Naval Base on Hainan Island on China’s southern coast.
While a Japanese official told the newspaper that in 2020 an orb was spotted over the country, which many believed was a UFO. That official said: ‘In hindsight people are realizing that was a Chinese espionage tool. But at that time it was purely novel — nobody had seen this.’
Intelligence officials do not have an estimate on how many spy balloons the Chinese military possesses. An official did use the word ‘dozens’ when asked about how many sightings there have been in recent years, according to the Post.
The newspaper went on to report that in June 2022, a spy balloon crashed in Hawaii. As a result, the US military were able to gleam valuable information about Chinese military technology.
Speaking about the advantages of using a balloon for spying reasons rather than more sophisticated technology, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Charlie ‘Tuna’ Moore said: ‘If you have a balloon that’s moving extremely slowly you have persistence that you can’t get from a satellite.’
Moore added that typically satellites only have seconds in order to take pictures of their targets.
One of China’s nuclear submarines pictured at the Yulin Naval Base on Hainan Island
Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong at Yulin Naval Base
This week, Biden officials held briefings in Washington and Beijing with foreign diplomats from 40 nations about the balloon.
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on Monday briefed nearly 150 foreign diplomats across 40 embassies, an official said, while in Beijing the U.S. embassy gathered foreign diplomats on Monday and Tuesday to present U.S. findings about the balloon.
‘We want to make sure that we are sharing as much as we can with countries around the world who may also be susceptible to these types of operations,’ the senior administration official said.
China has said it was a weather balloon that had blown off course into U.S. airspace and was an ‘unexpected, isolated incident.’ It condemned the shoot-down and accused the United States of overreacting.
Officials said the first spy balloon that traveled across the US fell six miles off the coast of South Carolina in waters about 47 feet deep. They noted that a proper salvage vessel won’t be on the scene for days as the race is on to secure the wreckage
In the briefings in Beijing, the United States presented information to demonstrate that the balloon, which entered U.S. airspace in the last days of January and flew over U.S. military sites, was not a weather research balloon as Beijing said but an airship that was used for espionage, said diplomats in Beijing who attended the discussions.
The diplomats at the Beijing briefing said they were told that the solar panels on the balloon meant that it needed more power than a weather balloon, and that its flight path did not conform with natural wind patterns.
US officials have said the balloon was equipped with rudders and propellers.
‘Based on the U.S. briefing, our own understanding about such balloons and the fact that China has so far refused to name the company or entity that owns this balloon, we find it hard to believe it is a civilian weather balloon,’ said a Beijing-based Asian defense diplomat.
An F-22 Raptor fighter jet fired a single AIM-9X missile to take down a Chinese spy balloon and its payload, which was equipped with cameras, sensors and radars
The spy balloon is pictured being shot out of the sky on Saturday above South Carolina
The information was similar to what Pentagon has shared with reporters since the weekend, saying the balloons were part of a Chinese aerial fleet that has also violated the sovereignty of other countries.
On Tuesday, Navy divers began pulling pieces of the balloon from the depths of the ocean floor on Tuesday, using sophisticated reconnaissance drones dubbed the Kingfish and the Swordfish to locate the debris.
After collecting all of the balloon’s white fabric and shell structure found floating on the surface, the Navy has now shifted to an all-underwater search for the remnants of the massive balloon.
Navy and Coast Guard personnel were using underwater drones to locate and map the debris field, and divers were in the water gathering up what they could, officials said.
A SHORT HISTORY OF SPY BALLOON SIGHTINGS
Under Donald Trump
Under Joe Biden
Early in 2021: over continental USA
Oct 2022: Balloon crashed off Hawaii
Jan-Feb 2023: Balloon flies over US, from Alaska to South Carolina, and is shot down on February 4
Feb 2023: Balloon flying above South America, spotted over northern Colombia
The debris already collected was being hauled by small boats to a few area locations, including a Coast Guard station south of Myrtle Beach, and, depending on the size, will eventually go either to the FBI lab at Quantico, Virginia, or other sites where experts can analyze it, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to provide details of an ongoing military operation.
The head of U.S. Northern Command, Gen. Glen VanHerck, who is in charge of the recovery effort, and several Biden administration officials will brief members of Congress on the balloon on Wednesday and Thursday.
Lawmakers have raised a number of questions about whether the balloon was able to collect intelligence and transmit it back to China during the time it traveled eastward across the United States, after crossing the border from Canada into Idaho.
White House and Pentagon officials have largely avoided providing any details on the balloon’s capabilities.
In December, a Chinese fighter jet came within 20 feet of a U.S. air force plane in the contested South China Sea last week and forced it to take evasive maneuvers to avoid a fatal collision in international airspace, the US military said at the time.
The close encounter followed what the United States has called a recent trend of increasingly dangerous behavior by Chinese military aircraft.
The incident, which involved a Chinese Navy J-11 fighter jet and a U.S. air force RC-135 aircraft, took place on Dec. 21, the U.S. military said in a statement.
The video shows the J-11 flying close, almost alongside the RC-135, as the Chinese jet gets closer, the American pilot is forced to rapidly descend away from the other plane.