The balloon was first spotted on Jan. 28 and over the course of several days, floated over the U.S., including areas that contained military bases and missile silos.
U.S. officials said they took steps to limit the information gathered by the balloon and eventually shot it down over the Atlantic Ocean, where Navy divers are working to recover the debris.
China has maintained the balloon was not being used for intelligence gathering, and was a civilian weather balloon.
“However, the United States turned a deaf ear and insisted on indiscriminate use of force against the civilian airship that was about to leave the United States airspace, obviously overreacted and seriously violated the spirit of international law and international practice,” Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng said.
Former State Department senior advisor Christian Whiton said China would certainly have acted similarly to an incursion into their airspace, pointing to a 2001 incident where China aggressively intercepted a U.S. surveillance plane near the country’s coast.
“Of course, they would have taken action, of course, they would have shut down the balloon, they probably wouldn’t have bothered worrying whether it would hit anyone on the ground in their own country the way our military did,” Whiton said.
Whiten also said the incident seemed odd, since China can collect intelligence in other, less obvious ways, but recovered debris could give some insight into China’s intentions.
“Whether there were other sensors to pick up electronic communications, it’s such a such a bizarre thing to happen such a brazen thing to happen, that maybe some of that physical evidence will shed some light,” he said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a planned trip to China after the balloon was spotted. The trip was meant to help ease rising tensions between the U.S. and China over issues including human rights violations, China’s claim to Taiwan and China’s support of Russia.
Retired Maj. Gen. William Enyart said the incident isn’t good for either side, and Chinese President Xi Jinping doesn’t need a potential conflict with the U.S.
“He would like to see tensions ease, he doesn’t need to get into a real military battle with the United States at this point,” he said.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning provided no new details on Monday, repeating China’s insistence that the object was a civilian balloon intended for meteorological research, had little ability to steer and entered U.S. airspace by accidentally diverging from its course. She also did not say what additional steps China intended to take in response to Washington’s handling of the issue and cancellation of Blinken’s trip, which would have made him the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have stated that this is completely an isolated and accidental incident caused by force majeure, but the U.S. still hyped up the incident on purpose and even used force to attack,” Mao said at a daily briefing. “This is an unacceptable and irresponsible action.”
Other balloons that are believed to be Chinese have been spotted over Latin America and near Japan.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.