Ottawa summoned China’s ambassador to Canada on Thursday over reports of a Chinese spy balloon that sources tell Global News spent time in Canadian airspace.
Canadian officials said on Feb. 2 that a high-altitude surveillance balloon was detected and its movements are being actively tracked by NORAD, following questions about American reports of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon over that country.
“Yesterday, China’s Ambassador to Canada was summoned by officials at Global Affairs Canada regarding the situation described in the statement issued by the Department of National Defence,” said Maéva Proteau, spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly, in an email to Global News Friday.
“We will continue to vigorously express our position to Chinese officials through multiple channels.”
Pentagon says Chinese surveillance balloon poses no ‘physical or military threat’
Department of National Defence officials said that Canadians are safe and that the federal government is taking steps to ensure the security of its airspace, including the monitoring of a second potential incident.
“Canada’s intelligence agencies are working with American partners and continue to take all necessary measures to safeguard Canada’s sensitive information from foreign intelligence threats,” a spokesperson for the defence department said on Thursday night.
Many details of the incident remain unclear, including when or where the balloon is believed to have entered Canadian airspace.
China’s foreign ministry said on Friday that the balloon was for civilian meteorological and other scientific purposes, and that it regrets that the airship strayed into U.S. airspace. It added that it will continue to maintain communications with the United States to properly handle the unexpected situation.
Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said Friday it was a “surveillance balloon” that violated American airspace and international law. A senior defence official told Pentagon reporters Thursday that the U.S. has “very high confidence” that the object was a Chinese high-altitude balloon and was flying over sensitive sites to collect information.
Ryder said NORAD continues to monitor the balloon’s course, which was over the centre of the continental United States. He did not elaborate further. The balloon was not a threat to people on the ground, he added.
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Canadian political reaction started pouring in on Friday, with Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre calling the report “outrageous.”
“It’s outrageous, it’s very concerning that a hostile foreign government had a spy balloon in our airspace that continued to transit into the northwestern United States,” he told reporters in Ottawa.
“We as Canadians should never tolerate espionage by foreign regimes and we should work with our partners in the United States to hold the regime in Beijing accountable.”
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On Thursday, the balloon was spotted over Montana, which is home to one of America’s three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, advised against taking “kinetic action” because of risks to the safety of people on the ground. President Joe Biden accepted that recommendation.
The defence official said the U.S. has “engaged” Chinese officials through multiple channels and communicated the seriousness of the matter.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was set to visit Beijing this weekend, and his visit would have made him the highest-ranking member of Biden’s administration to visit China. On Friday, his trip was postponed, The Associated Press reported.
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A photograph of a large white balloon lingering over the area was captured by The Billings Gazette. The balloon could be seen drifting in and out of clouds and had what appeared to be a solar array hanging from the bottom, said Gazette photographer Larry Mayer.
The balloon’s appearance adds to national security concerns among lawmakers over China’s influence in the U.S., ranging from the prevalence of the hugely popular smartphone app TikTok to purchases of American farmland.
Canadian relations with China have been tense over several years, intensifying in recent months over allegations of attempts to influence and interfere in Canadian affairs.
Global News reported on Nov. 7 that Canadian intelligence officials have warned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that China has allegedly been targeting Canada with a vast campaign of attempted foreign interference, and RCMP have asked anyone with experience of Chinese influence through so-called “police stations” believed to be operating in Canada to come forward.
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Late last year, Ottawa released its long-awaited Indo-Pacific strategy, with Joly calling China an “increasingly disruptive global power” in a region where multiple countries are showing major economic growth.
“The Indo-Pacific is the fastest growing economic region of the world. By 2030, it will be home to two-thirds of the global middle class and by 2040, it will account for more than half of the global economy,” Joly said.
“Every issue that matters to Canadians, our national security, our economic prosperity, democratic values, climate change or again human rights will be shaped by the relationship Canada has with Indo-Pacific countries.”
— with files from The Associated Press and Reuters
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