The US says it could target Chinese companies linked to spy balloons

By Humeyra Pamuk, Michael Martina and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States will consider taking action against entities linked to the Chinese military that helped fly a Chinese spy balloon into US airspace last week, a senior State Department official said on Thursday.

Washington is confident that the maker of the Chinese balloon that was shot down by the US military off the US east coast last weekend has a “direct relationship” with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the department official said in a statement.

The FBI, which is spearheading efforts to analyze recovered remains of the balloon, has been more cautious, telling reporters in a briefing that it has received limited physical evidence and does not yet have enough information to assess its capabilities.

“It is very early for us in this process and the evidence that has been seized and presented to the FBI is extremely limited,” a bureau official said.

FBI officials said they still don’t have access to most of the “payload,” where most of the avionics likely carried, and that much of it remains underwater.

Separately, Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman highlighted the flight of the Chinese balloon as another sign of Beijing’s efforts to reshape the international order at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Thursday.

“This irresponsible act has fully demonstrated what we have long recognized: that the PRC (People’s Republic of China) has become more repressive at home and more aggressive abroad,” Sherman said at the hearing.

Sherman said Washington will continue to block China from using US technology to further its military modernization.

“The PRC is the only competitor with the intention and means to transform the international order,” Sherman said, adding that the balloon’s violation of US sovereignty and international law is the “latest example of that reality.”

Still, Sherman said she hoped Washington and Beijing could continue to work together on common concerns like climate change “at this difficult time.”


The spectacle of the Chinese balloon floating over the United States last week sparked political outrage in Washington and brought into focus China’s challenge to the United States and its allies.

It prompted Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken to cancel a trip to Beijing that both countries had hoped would mend torn ties. Blinken would have arrived in Beijing on Sunday.

Instead, Thursday’s numerous briefings and hearings highlighted the political pressure President Joe Biden’s administration remained under to address the incident.

Democratic and Republican US lawmakers slammed the US military and Biden administration for not shooting down the balloon when it first entered US airspace, instead waiting a week to do so.

The US Air Force shot down the balloon off South Carolina on Saturday, a week after it entered US airspace. China’s foreign ministry said it was a weather balloon that went off course and accused the United States of overreacting.

On Monday, the United States briefed 150 foreign diplomats in Washington and sent information to their missions around the world to share details of the balloon incident.

On Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning dismissed US allegations that the balloon was part of a global spy fleet, saying the claim could be part of a “US information warfare against China”.


In the statement released by the State Department, the senior official said the United States “will … evaluate whether to take action against PRC facilities associated with the PLA that aided the balloon’s entry into U.S. airspace.” “.

“We are confident that the balloon maker has a direct relationship with the Chinese military and is an approved supplier of the PLA, according to information released on an official procurement portal for the PLA,” the official said.

The company also advertises balloon products on its website and hosts videos of past flights that appear to have flown over US airspace and the airspace of other countries, the official said, without naming the company.

The official said the United States had collected high-resolution images of the balloon from U-2 aircraft flybys, showing it was capable of conducting signals intelligence operations.

China has conducted similar surveillance flights over more than 40 countries on five continents, the official said.

Separately, US Senate Democrats released a report Thursday saying Washington needs to allocate more diplomatic and security resources to the Indo-Pacific to hit back against China as Beijing strives to create a regional sphere of influence and become the most influential power to become the world.

Japan said Thursday it was sharing information with the United States after confirming suspected balloons have flown over Japan, including in the open waters off the southwestern Kyushu region in 2022.

(Edited by Daniel Wallis)


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