A suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that had been over the United States for about a week was shot out of the sky Saturday.
A U.S. fighter jet shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the Carolina coast, following increased pressure on President Joe Biden to take action.
"They successfully took it down, and I want to compliment our aviators who did it," said Biden.,
The president said he ordered the Pentagon to shoot down the balloon Wednesday when he was first briefed about it, and the craft was spotted over Montana. They decided to wait to avoid the risk of injury to people on the ground.
"They decided without doing damage to anyone on the ground, the best time to do that was when it got over water," said Biden.
The debris field is now scattered over several miles of the Atlantic Ocean, and water that is 47 feet deep.
U.S. Defense officials said the aircraft first entered U.S. airspace and violated international law last Saturday. China has insisted the device is actually a civilian balloon, studying weather.
"The Chinese cover story that it’s a weather balloon is a very weak cover story," said Hal Kempfer, a retired Marin Corp Lieutenant Colonel.
He said it was clear this balloon had sophisticated technology, and this isn’t the first time China has used a balloon for intelligence collection.
"This was rather egregious that they flew this thing on a trajectory that took it right over the middle of the Continental United States. Right over the sensitive, strategic sites where we keep intercontinental ballistic missiles. Where we traditionally have strategic bombers and a variety of other sensitive things located there," said Kempfer.
The incident prompted Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to postpone a planned trip to China, where he was expected to try and ease tensions between the two countries.
"Putting off the meeting with China was definitely the right thing to do. But it would be a shame to see this episode derail the possibility of improvement of U.S.-China relations," said Steven Fish, a political science professor at UC Berkeley.
Fish said it remains important for the two countries to overcome a relationship that has been deteriorating, especially as our economies are intertwined.
"Once more, we are the two big superpowers now. And for us to manage a world free of major war is absolutely imperative for the 21st century," said Fish.
China criticized the U.S. downing of the balloon, calling it "an obvious overreaction and a serious violation of international practice."