The Chinese balloon, of the size of three buses, laced with a significant number of payloads will probably be over the United States for a few days, the Pentagon said on Friday asserting that it has surveillance capabilities.
The development has angered the United States and in protest has cancelled the Beijing trip of Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was scheduled to leave for China on Friday night. This would have been the first visit of a top American diplomat to China in several years.
President Joe Biden has been briefed about the violation of US airspace by China and he is closely monitoring the developing situation, the White House said adding that as of now they have decided against destroying it because of the safety of the public, but all actions are on table.
"We will continue to monitor it. Right now, we assess that it'll probably be over the United States for a few days, but we'll continue to review our options and keep you updated as we can," Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters at the Department of Defence.
"It's got a large payload underneath the surveillance component, underneath the actual balloon piece of it," Ryder said, adding that the surveillance balloon has maneuverability capabilities. Right now at this point, it's moving eastward across the United States, currently over about the central United States, he said.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that the US has noted the Chinese statement of regret. "But the presence of this balloon in our airspace, it is a clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law, and it is unacceptable that this occurred," she said.
Both the White House and the Pentagon said that it does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground. "President Biden was briefed. He has asked the military to present options. It was the strong recommendation by (Defence) Secretary (Lloyd) Austin, Chairman Milley, the commander of Northern Command not to take kinetic action because of the risk to safety and security of the people on the ground," Jean-Pierre said.
"We do know that it is a surveillance balloon. In terms of the size, I'm not able to get into the specifics other than to say that it is big enough that, again, in reviewing our approach we do recognise that any potential debris field would be significant and potentially cause civilian injuries or deaths or significant property damage," Ryder said.
"This is part of the calculus in terms of our overall assessment, but again, we'll continue to monitor it. We'll continue to review our options and keep you updated as able," he said.
Earlier in the morning, in a phone call with the Chinese counterpart, Blinken told Director of the CCP Central Foreign Affairs Office Wang Yi that he will not be travelling to the People's Republic of China at this time in light of the current presence of a high-altitude PRC surveillance balloon in US airspace.
Blinken relayed that he had planned to visit Beijing to follow up on the agenda agreed to by President Biden and President Xi in November in Bali. He noted the PRC's statement of regret but conveyed that this is an irresponsible act and a clear violation of US sovereignty and international law that undermined the purpose of the trip, State Department Spokesperson said in a read out of the call.
"The Secretary explained that in light of this ongoing issue, it would not be appropriate to visit Beijing at this time. He underscored that the United States is committed to diplomatic engagement and maintaining open lines of communication, and that he would be prepared to visit Beijing as soon as conditions allow," Price said.