Biden: No evidence of "sudden increase" in unidentified objects in U.S. airspace3 min read
President Biden delivers remarks at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union Local 26 on Feb. 15 in Lanham, Maryland. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
President Biden said Thursday that a series of unidentified objects the U.S. shot down this month do not appear to be related to the Chinese government's spy balloon program.
Driving the news: The flying objects "were most likely balloons tied to private companies, recreation, or research institutions," Biden said, citing the U.S. intelligence community's current assessment.
What he's saying: "We don't have any evidence that there has been a sudden increase in number of objects in the sky," Biden said Thursday, in his most extensive public remarks to date on the recent encroachments in U.S. airspace that have captured national attention.
- "We’re now just seeing more of them, partially because the steps we’ve taken to increase our radars," he added.
- Biden also said that he expects to speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping, but did not provide specific details on when that may happen.
- “I hope we can get to the bottom of this,” he said, adding: "I make no apologies for taking down that balloon."
Catch up quick: Biden's speech comes after a U.S. fighter aircraft downed a balloon sent by the Chinese government earlier this month off the coast of South Carolina.
- The balloon had the capability to collect communications, a State Department spokesperson said.
- China has flown similar surveillance balloons over more than 40 countries across five continents in the past, the spokesperson added.
- The U.S. intelligence community has had no indication so far that the three unidentified objects shot down over the weekend were tied to external espionage efforts, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said.
China has denied that the balloon was a surveillance airship and China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that its downing was an "obvious overreaction and a serious violation of international practice," AP reported.
- At least three additional unidentified objects have been spotted over U.S. and Canadian airspace since the initial discovery of the suspected surveillance balloon.
- The U.S. intelligence community has had no indication so far that the three unidentified objects shot down are tied to external espionage efforts, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said earlier this week.
The backdrop: China's foreign ministry after the discovery of the balloon accused the U.S. of sending high-altitude balloons "illegally" into Chinese airspace more than 10 times since the start of 2022.
- U.S. officials have denied the accusations. "Any claim that the U.S. government operates surveillance balloons over the PRC (People's Republic of China) is false," National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said.
Zoom out: U.S.-China relations have been especially strained over the last year due to tensions over tech competition, cybersecurity, China’s support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Taiwan, and China’s military build-up, Axios China author Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian writes.
What to watch: Secretary of State Antony Blinken is preparing to meet with this week with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, Axios' Hans Nichols reports.
- U.S. officials are expecting Blinken to use the potential meeting to de-escalate tension over the spy balloon.
Go deeper… Why China has both spy balloons and spy satellites
Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional context.
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