Trump and other Republicans call for the US 'to shoot down' a suspected Chinese spy balloon

Donald Trump speaks
Former President Donald Trump gets ready to speak during a Save America rally on October 1, 2022 in Warren, Michigan. TrumpEmily Elconin/Getty Images
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  • Trump called for the US to "SHOOT DOWN THE BALLOON" as a suspect Chinese spy craft floats above the US.

  • In response to the episode, Secretary of State Antony Blinken is reportedly postponing his trip to China.

  • Other GOP officials said it was a mistake for the US to have not acted sooner.

Former President Donald Trump and a growing number of GOP lawmakers on Friday called for the US to shoot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon as Beijing pushed for cooler heads.

"SHOOT DOWN THE BALLOON!" Trump wrote on his social media platform, Truth.

The Pentagon said later in the day that US officials had considered shooting down the balloon at an unspecified threat, but that they accessed that it did not pose a threat while in flight or to Americans on the ground. There were also concerns that shooting the balloon could lead to safety risks from falling debris.

"It is big enough that again in reviewing our approach that we do recognize that any potential debris field would be significant and potentially civilian injuries, or deaths, or significant property damage, so again this is part of our calculus in terms of our overall assessment," Pentagon spokesperson Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told reporters.

"But again, we'll continue to monitor it. We'll continue to review our options."

The State Department confirmed that it was postponing Secretary of State Antony Blinken's trip to China in response to the balloon's presence.

"We have concluded that the conditions are not right at this moment for Secretary Blinken to travel to China," a senior State Department official told The Washington Post. Blinken was hours away from leaving Washington for his trip, before the change was abruptly announced.

Other Republicans took a slightly more measured approach, arguing that it was "a mistake" not to have shot down the suspected spy balloon but not necessarily saying that it should be done now. Bloomberg reported that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin advised President Joe Biden not to order the shoot down the balloon due to the risk of falling debris. On Wednesday, authorities shut down Billings' airport and the US military scrambled F-22 fighters to respond to the balloon's encroachment; Pentagon officials assess that it is on a reconnaissance mission near sensitive US military installations.

Chairman Mike Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican who leads a new select committee focused on China, said it was mistake that the US didn't act sooner.

"In my opinion, though the details are murky and we haven't yet sat down with the intelligence community and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs [Gen. Mark Milley], we should have shot it down," Gallagher told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.  "And I don't think the Chinese would hesitate to shoot down an American asset in their airspace, as they have shot down several of our U2 planes in the past."

China itself acknowledged that the craft is in fact its balloon. A foreign ministry spokesperson added that Beijing "regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace," but claimed that the balloon is a "civilian aircraft" primarily used for weather research. An earlier statement by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning called for a "cool-headed" approach to the matter. It is worth noting that the Chinese Communist Party has misled and in some cases outright lied about its activities, as many have suspected during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ryder would not go into detail, but he confirmed that the US rejects Beijing's claim that the balloon is being used for civilian purposes. The Pentagon stands by its belief that the balloon is conducting surveillance.

According to CBS News, the balloon is now floating over the Midwest after being spotted in Montana. The craft is powered by solar panels. The Pentagon was cagey about the exact location of the balloon, but Ryder did say that it is currently over "the central US" and flying at 60,000 feet.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also said it was "a mistake" not to have shot down the balloon.

"It was a mistake to not shoot down that Chinese spy balloon when it was over a sparsely populated area," Rubio wrote on Twitter. "This is not some hot air balloon, it has a large payload of sensors roughly the size of two city buses & the ability to maneuver independently."

Trump was far from the only 2024 presidential hopeful to weigh in. Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who is reportedly going to announce a presidential campaign in the coming weeks, slammed the White House for "letting China walk all over us."

"Shoot down the balloon. Cancel Blinken's trip," Haley said. "Hold China accountable."

Haley sent her tweet before the reported postponement of Blinken's trip came to light, a sign of just how quickly the situation changed.

Read the original article on Business Insider