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(BBC News) China has urged “cool-headed” handling of a dispute over a giant Chinese balloon heading for the eastern US.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier called off a visit to Beijing, saying the “surveillance” balloon’s presence was “an irresponsible act”.
Later the US reported a second Chinese balloon floating over Latin America.
China expressed regret over the balloon over the US, saying it was a weather airship that had been blown astray. It was last spotted over Missouri.
It is expected to reach America’s east coast near the Carolinas this weekend.
The US has decided not to shoot down the high-altitude airship due to the danger of falling debris.
The incident comes amid fraying tensions between the US and China.
In a statement on Saturday, the Chinese foreign ministry said Beijing “never violated the territory and airspace of any sovereign country”.
It said its senior foreign policy official Wang Yi had discussed the incident with Mr Blinken over the phone, stressing that maintaining communication channels at all levels was important, “especially in dealing with some unexpected situations in a calm and reliable manner”.
It added that Beijing “would not accept any groundless conjecture or hype” and accused “some politicians and media in the United States” of using the incident “as a pretext to attack and smear China.”
According to US officials, the airship floated over Alaska and Canada before appearing over the US state of Montana, which is home to a number of sensitive nuclear missile sites.
The incident angered top US officials, with Mr Blinken saying he had told Beijing the balloon’s presence was “a clear violation of US sovereignty and international law” and “an irresponsible act”. He called it “unacceptable” and “even more irresponsible coming on the eve of a long-planned visit”.
America’s top diplomat had been set to visit Beijing from 5 to 6 February to hold talks on a wide range of issues, including security, Taiwan and Covid-19. It would have been the first high-level US-China meeting there in years.
But on Thursday, US defence officials announced they were tracking a giant surveillance balloon over the US.
While the balloon was, the Pentagon said, “travelling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic” and did “not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground”, its presence sparked outrage.
On Friday, China finally acknowledged the balloon was its property, saying that it was a civilian airship used for meteorological research, which deviated from its route because of bad weather.
And late on Friday, the Pentagon said a second Chinese spy balloon had been spotted – this time over Latin America.
“We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America. We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon,” said Pentagon press secretary Brig Gen Patrick Ryder.
He provided no further details about its location, but there have been reported sightings over Costa Rica and Venezuela.
China has so far made no public comments on the reported second balloon.