U.S. officials announced Saturday afternoon that the military has downed the suspected Chinese spy balloon that was first spotted days earlier hovering over sensitive military facilities in Montana, disrupting the Biden administration's recent efforts to cool tensions with Beijing.
The suspected surveillance aircraft was downed off the Carolina coast, the Associated Press reported, and an operation is currently under way to recover the resulting debris.
The craft was spotted Thursday making its way over a military base outside Billings, Mont., that houses intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Biden reportedly wanted to shoot the balloon down when it was first spotted over Montana, but was dissuaded from doing so because of concerns that the resulting debris field could harm civilians or damage property.
Television footage taken Saturday afternoon showed a small explosion off the Carolina coast, and fighter jets could be seen canvassing the area, the AP reported. The FAA closed the airspace around the balloon Saturday morning, and the Coast Guard warned local mariners to keep their distance.
The apparent incursion into U.S. airspace prompted the State Department to postpone Secretary of State Antony Blinken's planned trip to Beijing, which was scheduled for Sunday.
Chinese officials insist that the balloon was a civilian research craft that was blown off course, though the Pentagon rejected that explanation during a Friday press conference.
"We know that it's a surveillance balloon," the Pentagon press secretary said.
Asked about the balloon earlier on Saturday, President Biden said, "We're going to take care of it."
In a Saturday morning statement, the Chinese government brushed off the cancellation of Blinken's visit.
"In actuality, the U.S. and China have never announced any visit, the U.S. making any such announcement is their own business, and we respect that," China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
Blinked told reporters that he told his counterpart in Beijing during a phone call that the balloon's entrance into U.S. airspace was "an irresponsible act and that [China's] decision to take this action on the eve of my visit is detrimental to the substantive discussions that we were prepared to have."
China Contributing $500 Million to Trump-Linked Project in Indonesia
Biden to Tap Army General Lloyd Austin for Secretary of Defense
ISIS Calls on Followers to Avenge New Zealand Mosque Murders