Chase Doak/via REUTERS
- The US is tracking what it termed a Chinese spy balloon, which has been hovering over Montana.
- On Friday, China confirmed the balloon belonged to it but said it was not being used for spying.
- Its foreign ministry said it was used for “mainly meteorological” purposes, the BBC reported.
China admitted on Friday that the large, white balloon spotted over Montana is its own, but denied that it was being used for spying purposes.
In an official statement, China’s foreign ministry said the balloon is a civilian airship used mainly for “meteorological research.”
The airship deviated from its scheduled route because of strong winds, the ministry said, adding that the balloon has limited “self-steering” capabilities.
A senior US defense official told reporters on Thursday there was “very high confidence” the balloon was Chinese and that it was flying over sensitive sites to collect information.
“Clearly, the intent of the balloon is first surveillance, and so the current flight path does carry it over a number of sensitive sites,” the official said.
However, the official said “it does not create significant value-added over and above what the [People’s Republic of China] is likely able to collect through things like satellites in low-Earth orbit. But out of an abundance of caution we have taken additional mitigation steps.”
The large balloon was first seen flying over Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and through Canada before appearing over the city of Billings, Montana.
After it was first spotted, the US considered shooting down the balloon but has so far held off.
The area in which it was spotted is home to several sensitive locations, such as Malmstrom Air Force Base, which is just one of three such bases in the US to house Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles. The other two are in Wyoming and North Dakota.
This has alarmed some officials, including Montana Senator Steve Daines, who said the fact the balloon was occupying Montana airspace “creates significant concern” because of its military bases.
China previously urged calm and said it has “no intention of violating the territory and airspace of any sovereign country,” the Associated Press reported.