Beijing: China said on Monday that U.S. high-altitude balloons had flown over its airspace without permission more than 10 times since the beginning of 2022, drawing a swift denial from Washington.

China’s allegation widened a dispute with the United States that began late last week when the U.S. military shot down a Chinese spy balloon, prompting top US diplomat Antony Blinken to plead to cancel a trip to Beijing designed to ease tensions.

“Since last year, the U.S.’s high-altitude balloons have undergone more than 10 illegal flights into Chinese airspace without the approval of the relevant Chinese departments,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a regular briefing in Beijing in response to a question.

Wang did not specifically describe the balloons as being for military or espionage purposes and did not provide further details.

The White House quickly denied China’s allegation, which National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson dismissed as an attempt at damage control by Beijing.

“Any claim that the U.S. government operates surveillance balloons over the PRC (People’s Republic of China) is false,” she said in a statement.

“It is China that has a high altitude surveillance balloon program for intelligence collection, connected to the People’s Liberation Army, that it has used to violate the sovereignty of the United States and over 40 countries across five continents,” Watson added.

China has failed to offer any credible explanations for the intrusions, she added.

Earlier, national security spokesman John Kirby told MSNBC in an interview: “Just not true. We are not flying balloons over China.”

Kirby separately said the White House still did not know what three other flying objects downed since Friday were, but that the administration would release more details as soon as the debris is captured and analyzed. China’s claim comes after the United States shot down a Chinese surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina on February 4.

China said the balloon was a civilian research craft that flew by mistake and accused the United States of exaggerating. The Pentagon said that in recent days, the US military has shot down three other flying objects over North America, most recently on Sunday, when an octagonal object was brought down over Lake Huron.

Wang said he had no information about the latest three objects shot down by the United States.

By Archana

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