‘Not the first time’ a Chinese surveillance balloon passed over U.S.: ambassador

Click to play video: 'China is a ‘legitimate threat’ to U.S., Canada: ambassador'
China is a ‘legitimate threat’ to U.S., Canada: ambassador
WATCH: China is a ‘legitimate threat’ to U.S., Canada: ambassador – Feb 5, 2023

The suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that passed over the U.S. — and according to sources, spent time in Canadian airspace — late this week was not the first to encroach on American airspace, according to U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Cohen.

On the heels of U.S. reports of the suspected spy balloon, Canadian defence officials confirmed on Thursday night that a high-altitude surveillance balloon was being actively tracked by NORAD.

Sources had told Global News the surveillance balloon spent time in Canadian airspace, but the details of when and for how long have not been made clear by Canadian authorities.

Read more: Canadian pilots were warned of ‘untethered balloon’ amid China surveillance concerns

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Ted Cruz says Chinese spy balloon should’ve been shot down earlier

Meanwhile, Canadian pilots flying over the Prairie provinces and Ontario were warned to be on the lookout for an “untethered balloon” on Thursday night — warnings that came as the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon was also reported in American airspace.

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“This is not the first time that this type of a device has been floated over the United States,” Cohen said, speaking in an interview with The West Block host Mercedes Stephenson, aired Sunday.

“It has happened previously.”

In fact, soaring surveillance attempts from both China and Russia are a regular occurrence, the ambassador explained.

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China threatens repercussions after U.S. shoots down spy balloon

“They have low-altitude satellites that are constantly taking pictures of all of the United States and of all of Canada, for that matter,” Cohen said.

The Department of National Defence did not respond to questions on Friday asking whether such a balloon has entered Canadian airspace before, and how many times if so.

While some observers warned that the suspected surveillance balloon could have photographed nuclear missile facilities, Cohen added, that wouldn’t be anything new.

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“Those nuclear missile facilities are all readily observable by satellites that are constantly rotating the earth and taking pictures of the United States,” he said.

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U.S. says shooting down Chinese surveillance balloon ‘was an option’ before it entered its airspace

Onlookers would also be “wrong” to think the balloon represents any kind of significant escalation from China, Cohen went on to say, adding that they “just haven’t heard about it before.”

Rather, the incident should be treated as a reminder to be “vigilant” when it comes to China.

“China is not a country to be trifled with,” Cohen said. “China is a is a potential threat and needs to be watched all the time.”

The Canadian government has also upped its rhetoric against China in recent months.

Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly unveiled the country’s Indo-Pacific strategy in November, which labelled China an “increasingly disruptive global power.”

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Earlier that same month, Joly warned Canadians doing business in China to consider the “geopolitical risks” involved with that choice.

Cohen said the United States was pleased to see the tougher tack Canada has started taking on China.

“The United States is comfortable with where Canada is with China,” he said.

“I think we all heard tougher rhetoric, a greater sense of the threats that China played to Canada and to North America. And frankly, I think we heard an articulation of a policy that was very close to the policy that the United States has adopted vis-a-vis China.”

Read more: U.S. military plane forced to evade close ‘buzz’ by Chinese jet, Pentagon says

Meanwhile, in the wake of the suspected spy balloon’s appearance in American skies, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has postponed a planned visit to Beijing this weekend.

On Friday, Blinken confirmed he had informed his Chinese counterpart that he was postponing the trip “in light of China’s unacceptable action.”

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.

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“I’m not sure I believe that it’s gathering weather data, but it’s entirely possible that it drifted off course and that it was never any intention to have it flying over, you know, over this part of this part of the United States,” Cohen told Stephenson.

But, regardless, the ambassador said people should “not jump out of our shoes here.”

“This is a balloon that was at very high altitude. My information is that … no American citizens or buildings were ever in jeopardy for this. The balloons were well above commercial airliner flight patterns,” Cohen said.

“And this is not the first time that this type of a device has been floated over the United States.”

— with files from Global News Aaron D’Andrea, Sean Boynton

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