The “relatively large” balloon entered US airspace a few days ago and is flying at high altitude over the northwestern United States, said the Pentagon official, who wished to remain anonymous. His path had previously been followed by the US military. “The aim of the balloon is clearly espionage and its current path takes it through sensitive bases,” said the Pentagon official. These include air force bases and underground nuclear missile sites.

“We have no doubt that the balloon comes from China,” it said. “We take steps to protect against the collection of sensitive information.” However, according to the Pentagon, the danger is not particularly great. “We have come to the conclusion that this balloon has limited capabilities from an espionage perspective.”

After the discovery of the balloon, US President Joe Biden reportedly ordered a possible launch to be examined. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and top military officials ultimately decided against it because too many people on the ground could be endangered if shot down by the falling parts. “In our estimation, it is so large that its debris could cause damage.” According to the information, fighter jets flew near the balloon over the US state of Montana in order to be able to assess it.

Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder later confirmed that the balloon was still en route over US soil. He flies “well above the level of air traffic” and “poses no military or physical danger to people on the ground”.

Canada’s Defense Department said it would work with the US to track the balloon. In addition, a “possible second incident” will be checked. Everything is being done to ensure the safety of Canadian airspace, it said.

The US state of Montana borders Canada. US media quoted Defense Department officials as saying the balloon first flew over the Pacific Aleutian chain of islands and then through Canadian airspace over the United States. Accordingly, the balloon is the size of three buses.

According to the Pentagon official, who spoke anonymously, China was contacted about the incident and “clarified the seriousness of the incident” to Beijing. “We have made it clear that we will do whatever it takes to protect our people and our country.”

China announced that it wanted to clarify what was behind the allegations made by the USA. “Verification is ongoing,” a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said in Beijing on Friday, adding that until the facts are in, “hype” about the matter won’t help settle the matter.

China is a responsible country committed to international law and has no intention of violating another country’s airspace, she said.

Beijing has flown observation balloons over the United States in the past. However, it is the first time a balloon has stayed in US airspace for so long, the Pentagon official said.

Although satellites and airplanes are technically superior to spy balloons, the latter are still used for scouting purposes. According to experts, balloons cost less and can stay airborne for long periods of time.

Because of the incident, it was initially unclear whether Blinken would fly to Beijing as planned. It would be the first visit by a US Secretary of State to China since October 2018. The State Department initially did not want to comment on a possible impact of the balloon incident on Blinken’s trip.