President Biden on Thursday addressed the nation for the first time on his decisions to shoot down a Chinese spy balloon and three additional unidentified objects over North American airspace in the past few weeks.
A massive Chinese surveillance balloon was first detected within American airspace off Alaska on January 28. It was shot down on February 4 in U.S. airspace off the coast of South Carolina.
Less than a week after the spy balloon was destroyed, the Pentagon downed the first of three additional objects in waters above the Arctic Ocean on Friday. The size of “a small car,” according to National Security Coordinator for Strategic Communication John Kirby, and floating at 40,000 feet, this object was much smaller than the initial Chinese balloon.
“Our intelligence community is still assessing all three incidences,” Biden said on Thursday. “They are reporting to me daily and will continue the urgent efforts to do so, and I will communicate back to the Congress.”
He added, “We don’t know exactly what these three objects were. But nothing right now suggests they were related to China’s spy balloon program or that they were surveillance vehicles from any other country.”
According to Biden, the intelligence community’s current assessment is that the latter three objects “were most likely balloons tied to private companies, recreation or research institutions to study weather or conduct other scientific research.”
And while every errant flying object will not receive a shoot-down order, Biden stated firmly, “Make no mistake, if any object presents a threat to the safety and security of the American people, I will take it down.”
Biden said he has directed his team “to come back to me with sharper rules for how we will deal with these identified flying objects moving forward, distinguishing between those that are likely to pose safety and security risks that necessitate action and those that do not.”
Further, he noted, he will be sharing with Congress these classified policy parameters when they’re completed, and they will remain classified “so we don’t give our road map to our enemies to try to evade our defenses.”
The remarks came after increasing pressure from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, who said the American people deserved to hear from the President exactly what the Administration knew about the spy balloon and why Biden later ordered three more flying objects shot down by American fighter jets.
The revelation and downing of the first balloon exacerbated already strained diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was compelled to postpone indefinitely a diplomatic visit to China following the initial spy balloon’s discovery. And on February 7, China refused to take a call from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, which had been meant to ratchet down the tensions. China had stated the U.S. had not created “the proper atmosphere for dialogue” at this time.
On Friday the Biden Administration put restrictions on six Chinese companies that helped build that original balloon.
On Thursday, however, Biden tried to strike a tone of re-engagement, saying he expected to speak with President Xi Jinping. He stressed that “we seek competition, not conflict with China,” and he added, “We’re not looking for a new Cold War.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Thursday that China, which had levied sanctions against U.S. contractors earlier in the morning, was “deflecting and coming up with excuses and trying to spin this.”
Biden completed his remarks by stating that he’d “make no apologies” for taking down these objects.