© Reuters. U.S. President Joe Biden answers a question from a reporter before getting into his vehicle after disembarking from Air Force One at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, New York, U.S., February 4, 2023. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz
By Jeff Mason and David Shepardson
SYRACUSE, New York (Reuters) -President Joe Biden said on Saturday that the United States is “going to take care of” a suspected Chinese spy balloon that has been tracked flying across the United States as flights were stopped around South Carolina because of a “national security effort.”
Biden made his remark in response to a question about whether the United States would shoot down the high-altitude surveillance balloon, which has been flying across the country in what Washington calls a “clear violation” of U.S. sovereignty.
Asked if the balloon was going to be shot down, Biden gave a thumbs up to reporters. Military leaders this week had recommended against shooting down the balloon because of the risk of falling debris, officials said, but it is now heading for open waters.
It was the first time the president, who was in Syracuse for a family event, made a reference to the balloon.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) paused departures and arrivals at three airports on Saturday including Myrtle Beach International Airport in South Carolina because of a “national security effort.”
The FAA issued a temporary flight restriction to clear airspace around the South Carolina coast. The notice blocked flights to more than 100 square miles (260 square kilometers) — mostly over the Atlantic Ocean, according to a document posted by the FAA. The notice warned the military could use deadly force if airplanes violate the restrictions and do not comply with orders to leave.
A Reuters photographer in the Myrtle Beach area could see the suspected spy balloon overhead, with two U.S. military jets flying alongside it.
The suspected Chinese spy balloon prompted U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone a visit to China this week that had been expected to start on Friday.
The postponement of Blinken’s trip, which had been agreed to in November by Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, is a blow to those who saw it as an overdue opportunity to stabilize an increasingly fractious relationship between the two countries. The last visit by a U.S. secretary of state was in 2017.
China is keen for a stable U.S. relationship so it can focus on its economy, battered by the now-abandoned zero-COVID policy and neglected by foreign investors alarmed by what they see as a return of state intervention in the market.
The balloon was sighted over Montana on Wednesday and has traveled across the United States.
China expressed regret that an “airship” used for civilian meteorological and other scientific purposes had strayed into U.S. airspace.
China’s foreign ministry said on Saturday that the flight of the “airship” over the United States was a force majeure accident and accused U.S. politicians and media of taking advantage of the situation to discredit Beijing.
The Pentagon said on Friday that another Chinese balloon was observed over Latin America, without saying where exactly.