Japan has told China that violations of its airspace by surveillance balloons are unacceptable, a government spokesman said on Wednesday.
The government believes several Chinese balloons flew over Japan over the past three and a half years and it is now looking at allowing weapons to be used to gun down such intrusions, Kyodo News agency reported.
“As a result of further investigation of specific balloon-shaped flying objects that were confirmed in Japan’s airspace in the past, it is strongly suspected that they were unmanned surveillance balloons from China,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters on Wednesday.
Attention to past intrusions of Japan’s airspace has heightened since the United States shot down a Chinese balloon this month and briefed officials from 40 nations about the issue.
The Japanese defence ministry said balloons were detected in late 2019, mid-2020 and September 2021, and that China has been called on to verify the claim and ensure it does not happen again.
Three balloons shot down likely ‘benign’
Meanwhile, the White House said on Tuesday that three objects shot down while flying high over North America on the weekend may have posed no security threat.
The most likely explanation for them was that they were used for commercial or research purposes, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said at a White House briefing, adding there was no indication the objects were linked to China or spying.
“We haven’t seen any indication or anything that points specifically to the idea that these three objects were part of the PRC’s spying programme, or that they were definitively involved in external intelligence collection efforts,” Kirby said.
Kirby said a “leading explanation” in the US intelligence community is that the objects were “balloons that were simply tied to commercial or research entities and therefore benign.”
No one had come forward to claim ownership of the downed objects, he added.
Weather balloons common: Taiwan
In related news, Taiwan’s military said on Tuesday all Chinese balloons detected in its airspace were weather balloons that did not pose a security threat that justified shooting them down.
The remark came after the Financial Times reported that dozens of Chinese military balloons have been spotted flying through Taiwan’s airspace over the past few years.
“They come very frequently, the last one just a few weeks ago,” an unnamed senior Taiwanese official was quoted as saying by Focus Taiwan.
A senior general said all of the detected Chinese balloons were likely for meteorological purposes and thus did not pose a serious serious threat to the degree that they needed to be destroyed.
- Reuters with additional editing by Alfie Habershon and Jim Pollard