The tensions between the US and China this weekend skyrocketed - and in the most concrete sense: a Chinese hot air balloon hovered at a high altitude over the US, with an emphasis on security facilities.
The Pentagon accused China of espionage and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken even canceled his visit to Beijing.
China denied any malicious intent.
If that wasn't enough, another spy balloon was discovered over South America, a few hours after the reports of the first balloon appeared.
"We believe this is another Chinese spy balloon," Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder said.
Canceled the visit to China, photo: AFP
The balloon affair in US airspace captured the headlines on Friday morning (Israel time), but the US has been following it since last Tuesday, when President Joe Biden also received the last briefing about the approaching vessel.
Three senior American officials told the AP news agency that at first Biden was inclined to order the interception of the balloon and F-22 planes were even put on standby for the moment when the order would be given.
However, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley advised Biden to avoid the interception. The reason: the balloon is about the size of three buses and its remains could be scattered in a radius that would already endanger those on the ground.
The balloon indeed hovered over the state of Montana, where the firing ports of the American ballistic missiles are located, and continued towards Missouri and Kansas, but the Pentagon estimated - following unspecified tests - that the intelligence damage from it was not worth the risk of interception.
"It's not like in 'Love in the Sky' that the pilot blows something up in the air and the remains don't land on the ground," an American senior told CNN, "Such an interception would endanger hundreds of Americans."
I'm told there's a balloon that needs to be taken care of?
— Kari Lake (@KariLake) February 3, 2023
All these reasons could not calm the spirits in the field.
"It is unimaginable that Communist China has a spy balloon that is moving towards Whitman Air Force Base in Missouri - the home of the stealth bomber," said the Republican Senator from Montana, Eric Schmitt, "No American should agree to this. I don't."
Indeed, social networks were filled with photographs of Americans demanding immediate action.
Some even uploaded photos with guns - even though the balloon flies thousands of meters higher than the bullet's range.
One of them was Carrie Lake, Trump's candidate for governor of Arizona.
Lake tweeted a picture of herself looking up at the sky, with a rifle in her hands, and wrote: "I was told there was a balloon that needed to be taken care of?"
Trump himself also demanded to intercept the balloon, as did Nikki Haley, who is joining the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
By the way, senior American officials said that even during the Trump era, Chinese balloons passed over US territory.
In any case, following the penetration of the balloon, Secretary of State Lincoln, who is in Seoul, canceled his visit to neighboring China.
He called Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and clarified that "the presence of a spy balloon in US airspace is a clear violation of American sovereignty and international law."
However, Blinken noted that Washington is committed to diplomatic dialogue with China.
"I will visit China when the conditions allow it, and the first step is to take the balloon out of our territory," he added.
The last visit of an American Secretary of State to China was in October 2018. Canada, whose airspace the balloon passed through, responded by summoning the Chinese ambassador to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa.
In China, on the other hand, they claimed that the balloon was a "civilian aircraft with limited driving capabilities, used for meteorological research that was diverted from the course by the winds, and in general they tried to detract from the importance of the incident. "In fact, at no point did China and the US officially announce any visit," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated In Beijing, "If the US announces a cancellation, it is its internal matter and we respect that."
However, not all of the reactions online were threatening or angry.
Some surfers were greedy for attention and attached photos showing Americans reacting, so to speak, to the hot air balloon.
And there was even someone who created a new account for the balloon itself, in which the balloon asks to place itself above "beautiful Montana".
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