Europe 1 with AFP 7:13 a.m., February 3, 2023, modified at 7:13 a.m., February 3, 2023

For several days, the Pentagon has been tracking the movements of a Chinese spy balloon flying at high altitude over American territory.

"Its current trajectory takes it over sensitive sites", such as air bases or missiles, said the Pentagon spokesman.

The United States and Canada tracked Friday at least one Chinese spy balloon flying at high altitude for several days over North America and sensitive military sites, an episode that rekindles tensions between Washington and Beijing a few days of a planned visit by US Foreign Minister Antony Blinken to China.

The Pentagon announced Thursday the presence of the balloon in the airspace of the United States, and the Canadian government said Friday to investigate "a second potential incident".

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At the request of President Joe Biden, the Pentagon considered shooting down the balloon, but the decision was made not to do so due to the risk posed by the debris to those on the ground, an official told reporters on Thursday. senior US defense official, on condition of anonymity.

"We have no doubt that the ball is from China," he said.

"We are taking steps to protect ourselves against the collection of sensitive information," he said, while insisting on "the limited added value in terms of information collection" of the device, described as a fairly large balloon.

“We considered that it was large enough for the debris to cause damage” if it was shot down over a populated area, according to the same source.

Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder said the United States and Canadian Aerospace Defense Command (Norad) was monitoring the path of the balloon.

"The balloon is currently flying at an altitude well above commercial air traffic. It poses no military or physical threat to those on the ground," he said in a statement.

"Second Incident"

"Canadians are safe and Canada is taking steps to ensure the security of its airspace, including monitoring for a potential second incident," Canada's Department of Defense said in a statement. more details on this possible second ball.

Canada did not refer to China.

"Canada's intelligence agencies are working with their American partners and continue to take all necessary measures to protect Canada's sensitive information against threats from foreign intelligence services," the ministry said.

"Clearly, this balloon is intended for surveillance and its current trajectory takes it over sensitive sites" including air bases and strategic missile silos, said the first American defense official, referring to the State of the Montana, in the northwestern United States.

The balloon entered US airspace "about two days ago" but US intelligence was already monitoring it, the source said, adding that it was not the first time the US military noticed such an intrusion.

This time, however, the balloon remained in United States airspace much longer.

Fighter jets approached the craft over Montana, according to the same source.

"Destabilizing action"

Washington raised the case with the Chinese authorities.

"We communicated to them the seriousness of the incident," said the American official.

"We made it clear to them that we will do whatever is necessary to protect our people in our territory."

Beijing had not officially reacted on Friday at the start of the afternoon.

But the Global Times newspaper, funded by the Chinese Communist Party but not an official organ, mocked the incident.

"The ball itself is a big target," the Global Times tweeted.

"If balloons from other countries can truly enter the continental United States unhindered, or even enter the skies above certain states, that only proves that the United States air defense system cannot is only there to look pretty and is not trustworthy," he quipped.

Republican Speaker of the US House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy denounced a "destabilizing action" by a China that "shamelessly disregards the sovereignty of the United States".

He called on Joe Biden to "not be silent".

Antony Blinken's trip to China, scheduled for Sunday and Monday, is to be the first visit to the country by a US secretary of state since October 2018, as the two superpowers seek to avoid the heightened tensions between them. oppose do not degenerate into open conflict.

Among the many contentious issues are Taiwan, which China claims as an integral part of its territory, and China's activities in Southeast Asia.

In the Philippines, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin signed agreements on Thursday aimed at strengthening the US military presence there in the face of the rise of China.