China opposes U.S. shooting down of civilian airship

By ZHANG YUNBI (Chinadaily.com.cn) 08:45, February 06, 2023

In response to the U.S. military shooting down an unmanned civilian airship from China, Beijing said it "will resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of the enterprise concerned, and reserves its own right to make further responses, if necessary".

Beijing "expresses its strong dissatisfaction and protest over the use of force by the U.S. side" to attack the airship, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement issued on Sunday.

The unmanned Chinese airship was first spotted in U.S. airspace early last week. Washington said it had shot down the airship on Saturday.

The Foreign Ministry statement said that China, after completing verification, "informed the U.S. side multiple times that the airship is for civilian research and that it entered the U.S. due to force majeure, constituting a completely unintended situation".

China clearly asked the U.S. to handle the situation in a calm, professional and restrained manner, according to the statement.

Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said on Thursday that the airship "does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground".

The Foreign Ministry said, "Under such circumstances, the U.S. side's use of force is an obvious overreaction and a serious violation of international practice."

Spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense Tan Kefei also said in a statement of "serious protest" on Sunday that the attack was an "obvious overreaction", adding that China "reserves the right to use necessary means to deal with similar situations".

After the airship was spotted in U.S. airspace, some US politicians and media organizations labeled it a "spy balloon".

The Foreign Ministry had confirmed on Friday that the civilian airship was used for research, mainly meteorological purposes. It deviated far from its planned course due to prevailing winds from the west and its limited self-steering capability.

Wang Yi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee, spoke to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken by telephone on Friday evening on how to deal with the unintended incident.

"We do not accept any groundless speculation or hype," a readout released by the Foreign Ministry on Saturday quoted Wang as saying.

In the face of an unexpected situation, what both sides should do is to stay composed, communicate in a timely manner, avoid misjudgment and manage differences, Wang added.

He underscored that China is a country that lives up to its responsibilities, and it has always strictly abided by international laws.

Su Xiaohui, an associate research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, said the airship incident was hyped amid rising hostility in the U.S. political circle against China. There has been mounting pressure from US lawmakers asking Washington to take a tougher stance against China, she noted.

Senior U.S. State Department officials said at a briefing via teleconference on Friday that Blinken has decided to postpone his planned trip to China due to the entry of the Chinese airship into U.S. airspace.

In response, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said on Saturday that "in fact, neither side has ever announced that there would be a visit". "It is a matter for the U.S." to make such an announcement and "we respect that", the spokesperson said.

Maintaining contact and communication at all levels is an important common understanding reached by the Chinese and U.S. presidents at their meeting in Bali, Indonesia, in November, the spokesperson said.

"One of the tasks of the diplomatic teams on both sides is to properly manage bilateral relations, particularly to manage some unexpected situations in a coolheaded and prudent manner," the spokes-person added.

(Web editor: Cai Hairuo, Liang Jun)


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