Downed Chinese balloon aimed for Hawaii but was blown off course: US official

The balloon was shot down by the US military off the coast of South Carolina on Feb 4. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON - US officials believe a Chinese balloon that was shot down after crossing the continental United States originally had a trajectory that would have taken it over Guam and Hawaii but was blown off course by prevailing winds, a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday.

The balloon, which Washington accuses Beijing of using for surveillance and China says was a civilian research vessel, drifted across Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, then Canada and the central United States before it was shot down by the US military off the coast of South Carolina on Feb 4.

The incident has further strained US-China relations and prompted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone a planned visit to Beijing last week.

US military and intelligence agencies tracked the balloon from when it lifted off from Hainan Island near China’s south coast, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday.

The US military said on Monday it had recovered critical electronics from the balloon, as well as large sections of the vessel itself.

During a regular briefing on Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin did not answer a question about whether the balloon was intended to fly over Guam and Hawaii before it was blown off its trajectory, instead repeating the Chinese position that the US should not “overreact”.

Meanwhile, a top US diplomat said on Wednesday the US will work to maintain lines of communication with China despite the rift over the alleged surveillance balloon.

The US and China have “never stopped communicating and trying to understand each other” despite the cancellation of Mr Blinken’s visit, said his deputy Wendy Sherman.

“We have, we are and we will maintain open lines of communication with the PRC so we can responsibly manage the competition between our countries,” Ms Sherman said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

“We do not see conflict with the PRC. We believe in the power of diplomacy to prevent miscalculations that can lead to conflict,” she said in a speech at the Brookings Institution.

Ms Sherman, in response to a question, declined to say if Mr Blinken would meet China’s foreign policy supremo Wang Yi later this week when both attend the Munich Security Conference.

But she indicated that Mr Blinken’s trip to China was postponed rather than cancelled, saying: “We hope to put it back on the schedule.” REUTERS, AFP

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