China has blasted the US decision to shoot down an alleged spy balloon spotted flying over North America, accusing the United States of "clearly overreacting and seriously violating international practice" and threatened repercussions.
According to international media, "China expresses strong dissatisfaction and protests against the use of force by the United States to attack the unmanned civilian airship," Beijing's Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Sunday.
In its statement, the ministry added that “China will resolutely uphold the relevant company’s legitimate rights and interests, and at the same time reserving the right to take further actions in response.”
The craft spent several days flying over North America, ratcheting up tensions between Washington and Beijing, before it was brought down just off South Carolina’s coast by a missile shot from an F-22 jet on Saturday, Pentagon officials said.
The downing of the balloon created a spectacle over one of the state’s tourism hubs and drew crowds reacting with a mixture of bewildered gazing, distress and cheering.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin called the operation a "deliberate and lawful action" that came in response to China's "unacceptable violation of our sovereignty".
American officials first said on Thursday that they were tracking a large Chinese "surveillance balloon" in US skies.
That led Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday to scrap a rare trip to Beijing designed to contain rising US-China tensions.
After initial hesitation, Beijing admitted ownership of the "airship", but said it was a weather balloon that had been blown off course.
China said it had "clearly requested that the United States properly handle the matter in a calm, professional and restrained manner".
It emphasised that the balloon’s journey was out of its control and urged the US not to "smear" it based on the balloon.