U.S. Says No Communication with China's Military After New Object Shot Down

The White House has said there remains no communication with the Chinese military after U.S. an F-22 fighter jet shot down an unidentified object flying over Alaska.

Speaking to reporters Friday, National Security Council Strategic Communications Coordinator John Kirby confirmed that the U.S. had shot down a yet unknown object flying around 40,000 feet over Alaskan airspace under President Joe Biden's orders. The object was said to have presented a threat to civilian air traffic as it flew in a northeastern direction toward the Arctic.

Kirby said the object had been detected on Thursday and U.S. pilots determined that it was unmanned before the president issued the shootdown directive. No further details were provided.

While no connection has been established to China, the shootdown came less than a after a balloon that U.S. officials have branded a Chinese surveillance asset was shot down over the coast of South Carolina, after first being revealed to the public days earlier over Montana. Chinese officials acknowledged that that balloon was of Chinese origin, but called it a civilian research tool that had flown off-course and protested the U.S. decision to bring it down with force after it flew across the mainland U.S.

Asked Friday what the state of communication between the U.S. and China was, Kirby said that "certainly" the two nations were in touch on the diplomatic level as "we have an embassy in Beijing" and "diplomatic discussions routinely happen."

But on the subject of military-to-military channels, he said that, "sadly, the military ones do not appear to be open right now."

US, Air, Force, F-22, in, Alaska
U.S. Air Force Major Josh "Cabo" Gunderson, F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team commander, performs a minimum radius turn at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, July 10, 2020. Lieutenant Sam Eckholm/Joint Base Langley-Eustis/U.S. Air Force

China suspended a number of lines of communication with the U.S. after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to the disputed island of Taiwan in August.

Kirby said that a "good-faith effort" was made by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to reestablish communications with the People's Liberation Army but it "was rebuffed."

"And that's unfortunate, particularly when, at times like this, you want to keep as open as you can the lines of communication," Kirby said.

Contacted for comment, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) referred Newsweek to a press briefing conducted by Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder shortly after Kirby's remarks.

Ryder provided few additional details, but said the latest shootdown event targeted an object that was "about the size of a small car, so not similar in size or shape to the high-altitude surveillance balloon that was taken down off the coast of South Carolina."

As in the previous incident, the U.S. shot the object using the AIM-9X missile fired by an F-22 Raptor fighter jet.

Ryder also confirmed that Austin has had no contact with his Chinese counterpart in the wake of the most recent incident. He also said no efforts were made to contact the Chinese military before the decision was made to shoot down the object as its origin is yet undetermined.

Austin did meet Friday with his Candian counterpart Anita Anand to whom he "reaffirmed the importance of our nations' investment in modern, ready, and capable forces, steps to advance NORAD modernization, and close coordination on a range of other bilateral and global issues," according to a Pentagon readout.

"In addition," the readout added, "the Secretary thanked Minister Anand for Canada's contribution to tracking and analysis of the high altitude balloon and support for the U.S. response to the PRC's unacceptable violation of our sovereignty."

Prior to news of the latest incident, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Tan Kefei responded Thursday to U.S. disappointment with the lack of communication over the alleged Chinese spy balloon.

"The United States insists on using force to attack China's civilian unmanned airships, which seriously violates international practice and sets a bad precedent," Tan said. "In view of the fact that this irresponsible and serious wrong practice of the U.S. side has not created a proper atmosphere for dialogue and exchanges between the two militaries, China does not accept the U.S proposal for a telephone call between the defense ministers of the two countries."

"Regarding the nature of the unmanned airship incident," he added, "the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has made a public statement that China reserves the right to use necessary means to deal with similar situations."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning further criticized the U.S. actions on Friday, before news broke of the latest shootdown incident, particularly in light of the House of Representatives' resolution condemning Beijing over the balloon.

"The Chinese side has repeatedly shared information and stated its position on the unintended entry of the unmanned Chinese civilian airship into U.S. airspace due to force majeure," Mao said. "The U.S. Congress's resolution is purely about scoring political points and dramatizing the whole thing."

"China deplores it and firmly opposes it," she added.

Newsweek has reached out to the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C. for comment.

US, Navy, recovers, Chinese, balloon, South, Carolina
Sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recover a "high-altitude surveillance balloon" off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, February 5. The balloon, which China has called an "unmanned Chinese civilian airship" used for research purposes, was some 200 feet tall, carrying a payload the size of two to three school buses. Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tyler Thompson/U.S. Navy

The Chinese balloon incident has sparked significant attention in Washington since it was first revealed by the Pentagon flying over Billings, Montana on February 2 and then dramatically downed off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina about two days later.

The incident even made it into Biden's State of the Union speech on Tuesday, during which the president said, "make no mistake about it: As we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did."

But the Biden administration has faced criticism, mostly from Republicans, over its decision not to take action earlier when the balloon was first reported in Montana, or over even more sparsely populated Alaska, where the most recent object was ultimately destroyed.

Pentagon officials defended their course of action during a hearing Thursday of the Defense Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, at which they asserted that shooting balloon down over the U.S. mainland proved too risky for the wellbeing of civilians below and that doing so over Alaska would not be viable for recovery.

As efforts take place now to recover the latest object downed by force within U.S. airspace, Ryder pushed back on the notion that lawmakers' criticisms had influenced the White House or Pentagon's decision to take out the unknown object much earlier.

"We're going to judge each of these objects on its own merits," Ryder said during Friday's press conference.

As for the president himself, Biden largely ignored shouted media questions regarding the shootdown over Alaska during a bilateral meeting Friday at the White House with Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, simply saying, "it was a success."

This is a developing news story. More information will be added as it becomes available.