Spy balloon confirms ‘pattern of Chinese behavior’ that poses threat to NATO members, Stoltenberg says

Spy balloon confirms ‘pattern of Chinese behavior’ that poses threat to NATO members, Stoltenberg says

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg delivers remarks to the news media as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken hosts Stoltenberg at the State Department in Washington, U.S., June 1, 2022.

Leah Millis | Reuters

WASHINGTON – The Chinese spy balloon that drifted across the United States last week presents security challenges for NATO’s 30-member alliance as well as other countries around the globe, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday.

“The balloon over the United States confirms a pattern of Chinese behavior where we see that China has invested heavily in new capabilities, including different types of surveillance and intelligence platforms,” Stoltenberg said during a press conference in Washington, DC beside U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“We need to be aware of the constant risk of Chinese intelligence and step up what we do to protect ourselves and react in a prudent and responsible way,” he said, adding that European countries have seen an increase in Chinese intelligence activities.

U.S. officials have long complained that Chinese companies are beholden to the People’s Republic of China and collect sensitive information on behalf of the People’s Liberation Army. The Chinese Communist Party has previously said that it does not engage in espionage. 

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Stoltenberg said China was building up its military and nuclear capabilities “without any transparency.”

“It is attempting to assert control over the South China Sea and threatening Taiwan, trying to take control of critical infrastructure, including in NATO countries, repressing its own citizens and trampling on human rights and deepening its strategic partnership with Moscow,” he said. “So NATO allies have real concerns which we discuss today.”

Stoltenberg’s remarks come as the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard complete a recovery operation of the downed spy balloon roughly six miles off the coast of South Carolina. On Saturday, Biden gave the order to take the 200-foot-tall spy balloon out of the sky. The operation resulted in an F-22 fighter jet shearing a hole in the bottom of the balloon with a sidewinder missile.

Sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recover a high-altitude surveillance balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Feb. 5, 2023.

Photo: U.S. Navy

Pentagon spokesman U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin called his Chinese counterpart on Saturday following the military mission. Chinese officials did not accept the call.

Blinken said the U.S. intelligence community was studying the balloon and that the U.S. would continue to update allies as well as countries around the world that may be victims of Chinese espionage.

“The United States was not the only target of this broader program, which has violated the sovereignty of countries across five continents,” Blinken said.

“In our engagements, we are again hearing from our partners that the world expects China and the United States to manage our relationship responsibly. That’s precisely what we set out to do. We continue to urge China to do the same,” he added.

Last week, in the handful of hours before Blinken was set to travel to Beijing, the Biden administration announced that it was indefinitely postponing the trip. He was slated to meet with his Chinese counterpart and potentially Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing.

“The presence of this balloon in our airspace is a clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law and is unacceptable that this has occurred,” a senior administration official said on a call with reporters, adding that a diplomatic trip could not take place under such conditions.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the U.S. will reconsider a trip to China at a later date and remained open to conversations with Beijing in the interim.