Update | China: Balloon over US skies is for research, wind pushed it
BEIJING (AP) — China said Friday that a balloon spotted over American airspace was used for weather research and was blown off course, despite US suspicion it was spying.
The discovery further strained already tense relations between Beijing and Washington.
The Pentagon decided not to shoot down the balloon, which was potentially flying over sensitive sites, because of concerns of hurting people on the ground.
The news came as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was expected to make his first trip to Beijing this weekend.
The visit has not been formally announced, and it was not immediately clear if the balloon's discovery would affect his travel plans.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said she had no information on the trip.
Blinken would be the highest-ranking member of President Joe Biden's administration to visit China, on a mission to mitigate a sharp downturn in relations between the countries amid trade disputes and concerns about Beijing's increasingly aggressive stance toward Taiwan and in the South China Sea.
In a statement late Friday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the balloon was a civilian airship used mainly for meteorological research.
The ministry said the airship has limited steering capabilities and “deviated far from its planned course” because of winds.
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