Japan and South Korea support the United States’ response to a suspected Chinese spy balloon, as their high-ranking diplomats said no country is allowed to infringe on another’s territorial sovereignty, according to a Kyodo News report on Tuesday.
Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Mori and South Korean counterpart Cho Hyun Dong voiced the shared position of Tokyo and Seoul following a meeting with US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in Washington.
The meeting comes amid rising tensions between Washington and Beijing since the balloon was shot down by the US military in early February.
“I explained at the meeting today that Japan supports this position of the US,” Mori said in a joint press conference with the two senior diplomats in the Kyodo News report.
“We will keep in touch and we look forward to receiving more information.”
Cho, the South Korean envoy, added: “We, as an ally of the United States, trust what the United States officially stated,” adding that Seoul expects there will be a chance for a high-level meeting with China on the balloon issue.
Sherman, who hosted the trilateral meeting — the first of its kind since last October – repeated Washington’s position that it is “absolutely confident” the balloon was a “surveillance apparatus” from China.
This ran counter to a statement from the White House, which responded Monday to growing — and at times fevered — speculation over the shooting down of unidentified aerial objects by saying the targets could be anything from commercial craft to espionage devices while denying that US balloons spy on China.
The US military also recovered important sensor and electronics parts from the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon it shot down earlier this month, it said on Monday.
“Crews have been able to recover significant debris from the site, including all of the priority sensor and electronics pieces identified as well as large sections of the structure,” the US Northern Command said in a statement.
After mounting pressure on President Joe Biden’s administration to explain the unprecedented situation that has seen the alleged Chinese spy balloon and three mystery objects shot down in North America in just over a week, officials appeared sure of only one thing: It’s not aliens.
“I just wanted to make sure we address this from the White House,” Biden’s press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre said at the top of the first full-blown briefing since the latest shoot-down of an unidentified object Sunday.
“There have been questions and concerns about this but there is no – again, no – indication of aliens or extraterrestrial activity.”
China insists the balloon, which spent several days flying over North America, was an errant weather observation aircraft with no military purpose, but the US says it was a sophisticated high-altitude spying vehicle that is part of a program with global reach.
A US F-22 Raptor fighter jet shot it down off the coast of South Carolina on February 4, and teams have since been working to recover the debris for analysis.
American warplanes have downed three other objects since then — one near Alaska, another over Canada and a third over Lake Huron — but authorities have not identified their origin or purpose.
As White House national security spokesman John Kirby also did Monday, Sherman categorically denied China’s latest accusation that US high-altitude balloons have illegally entered Chinese airspace more than 10 times since last year.
“Let me add a fact which is very important…there are no US government balloons over the People’s Republic of China — none, zero, period,” Sherman said, referring to China’s official name.
Besides the incident, she said they discussed issues including North Korea, Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine, and the shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.
The balloon incident has led to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken putting off a scheduled visit to Beijing and continuing tit-for-tat verbal exchanges between the two countries.
What actually is going on, however, remains unclear.
According to the US government, the first of the four objects — a sophisticated, high-altitude balloon shot down on February 4 off the coast of South Carolina — was part of an ongoing, global “fleet” of Chinese espionage balloons.
China denied this, calling the huge balloon an errant weather research craft, and lashed out at Washington on Monday. Beijing said more than 10 US balloons entered Chinese airspace “without any approval” over the last year.
As for another high-altitude balloon spotted in Latin America, China says that was a civilian flight test device.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters the US is “not flying surveillance balloons over China.”
“I’m not aware of any other craft that we’re flying over into Chinese airspace,” he said.
The United States says the large Chinese balloon down on February 4 was obviously a spy craft and that the debris is currently being plucked from the Atlantic Ocean for analysis.
US officials know little about them — not even to whom they belonged.
“Countries, companies, research and academic organizations operate objects at these altitudes for purposes that are not nefarious at all, including scientific research,” Kirby said.
Whether they were spying also remains unknown.
“Even if we have no indications that any of these three objects were surveilling, we couldn’t rule that out,” he said.
Officials also say that the perceived increase in incidents could be due to an adjustment in radar settings after February 4, which means items once passing unseen are now caught.
“One of the reasons that we think we’re seeing more is because we’re looking for more,” Kirby said.
The truth will not be clear until debris is collected, which is not simple.
In the case of the large Chinese balloon, sea conditions made diving impossible Monday, Kirby said, while the three subsequent craft were brought down in “pretty remote, difficult areas to reach.”
Canadian Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino called the location of the debris of the unidentified object shot down over the Yukon on Saturday “extremely challenging and difficult to access.”
In Washington, the extraordinary events are fueling already intense suspicion about China across both the Democratic and Republican parties — a trend likely to grow as the 2024 presidential election approaches.
The diplomatic fallout has already been substantial, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken abruptly canceling a rare visit to Beijing.
China’s accusations of US spying prompted National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson to allege that Beijing has a high-altitude spying program that has violated the airspace of “40 countries across five continents.”
The State Department said China was “scrambling to do damage control”and that the communist government “has failed to offer any credibleexplanations for its intrusion into our airspace.”
But over the weekend, Chinese state-affiliated media reported that anunidentified flying object had been spotted off the country’s eastcoast and that the military was preparing to shoot it down.
Beijing on Monday declined to comment on that report, referring journalists to the defense ministry, which did not respond to requests for comment from Agence France-Presse.