China defends claims that US ‘spy balloon’ was a ‘weather balloon’
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NATO and EU member state Romania said its forces detected a suspicious “air balloon” in its airspace on Tuesday afternoon. Romania’s Ministry of National Defence (MND) issued a statement saying: “The aerial surveillance system of the Romanian Air Force detected on Tuesday, February 14, at around 12:30, a small aerial target, having the evolution characteristics similar to a weather balloon, which was evolving at an altitude of about 11,000 meters in the national airspace, in the South-East of Romania.
“The Romanian authorities applied all standard procedures from the moment the object was detected, and two MiG-21 LanceR aircraft of the Romanian Air Force from the Air Police combat service under NATO command took off from the 86th Air Base in Fetești, around 12:40, being directed to the area where the air target was reported.
“The crews of the two aircraft did not confirm the presence of the aerial target, neither visually nor on the onboard radars. The aircraft were kept in the area for about 30 minutes, for the full clarification of the air situation, after which they returned to the air base.
“The Romanian Air Force constantly monitors, in cooperation with the Allied forces, the national airspace and the area in the vicinity.”
The news comes after security concerns were raised as a suspected Chinese spy balloon and three other unidentified objects were shot down over North America.
The incidents have seen simmering tensions between the United States and China burst into public view, and raised questions about the possibility of surveillance technologies or other objects flying in UK airspace.
China has denied the balloon was used for spying, but the incident will only inflate tensions between the Chinese Communist Party’s administration and the west.
US defence and military officials said a flying object – the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon – entered their country’s air defence zone on January 28 and moved largely over land across Alaska and then into Canadian airspace in the Northwest Territories, before crossing back into US territory.
The balloon reportedly flew over a number of sensitive military sites as it moved across North America, before it was shot down on February 4 off the east coast, six nautical miles off the South Carolina shore, on the orders of US President Joe Biden.
Since then, three other objects have been downed by the US: one off the coast of Alaska, one over Canada, and one over Lake Huron, one of the great lakes that divides the north-east of the US from Canada.
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The first object, the suspected Chinese spy balloon, was a large white orb, estimated at 60 metres in height – which is roughly the width of a football pitch – and carried a long sensor package underneath about the size of a small jet, according to the head of North American Aerospace Defence Command and the US Northern Command, General Glen VanHerck. It was flying at about 60,000 feet.
Little is known about the other three unidentified objects, which are still being recovered, but they are reportedly smaller, one being described as car-sized.
General VanHerck said part of the reason for shooting the three down was a “heightened alert” following the initial balloon incident.
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White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the US did not yet have evidence that the three unidentified objects were equipped for spying purposes – or even belonged to China – but added officials have not ruled that out.
He said: “Because we have not been able to definitively assess what these most recent objects are, we acted out of an abundance of caution.”
The three unidentified objects were flying lower than the balloon, and Mr Kirby said they posed a risk to civilian aviation.
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