Pentagon rejects China's claims suspected spy balloon was used for weather research

ITV News Correspondent Robert Moore reports on the Pentagon's reaction after the intrusion of a high-altitude Chinese balloon into US airspace

The Pentagon has rejected China's claims that a suspected spy balloon which is currently in US airspace was being used for weather and had blown off course.

US officials also confirmed on Friday afternoon that the balloon had moved eastward and is now over the central United States.

China had claimed that the balloon was a weather research satellite, with Beijing saying it was used for "mainly meteorological" purposes.

Pentagon Press Secretary Pat Ryder refused to provide details on exactly where the balloon was or whether there is any new consideration of shooting it down.

The military had ruled that option out, officials had previously said, due to potential risks to people on the ground.

Speaking to the press, Mr Ryder said the balloon was at an altitude of around 60,000 feet, was maneuverable, and had changed course.

He also acknowledged reports of a second balloon flying over Latin America, saying: "We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon."

It comes as the US Secretary of State announced earlier that he has postponed a trip to China as the Biden administration considers how to respond to the balloon's discovery.

Antony Blinken’s long-anticipated meetings with senior Chinese officials had been seen as a way to find some areas of common ground amid tensions over the war in Ukraine, fears of a Taiwan conflict and climate change.

Mr Blinken was expected to meet with his Chinese counterpart, and potentially with President Xi Jinping, according to reports.

Although the visit was not formally announced, it was agreed to in November by US President Joe Biden and President Xi at a summit in Indonesia.

US officials said on Thursday that a Chinese spy balloon had been flying over the United States for a couple of days, causing concern in Western diplomatic circles.

Antony Blinken (right) and China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi attend a meeting in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian resort island of Bali in 2022. Credit: AP

The balloon's appearance adds to national security concerns among American lawmakers over China's influence in the US, ranging from the prevalence of the hugely popular social video platform TikTok to purchases of American farmland.

In response to the reports, the Chinese government's statement said the airship has limited steering capability and "deviated far from its planned course" because of winds.

It said China regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace, as it urged calm and called for a halt to speculation.

China confirmed on Friday that it would look into the reports of the balloon's appearance, as the discovery further strained already tense relations between Beijing and Washington.

One of the places the balloon was spotted was Montana, which is home to one of the nation’s three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said there is "no intention of violating the territory and airspace of any sovereign country" and urged calm while the facts were established.

Ms Mao said China was working to understand the situation in the hopes "that both sides can handle this together calmly and carefully".

"China is a responsible country and has always strictly abided by international laws, and China has no intention of violating the territory and airspace of any sovereign country," she said.

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