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China’s ‘Spy’ Balloon Flies Over Asia

Balloons that are suspected of being Chinese spy devices have flown over Japan and Taiwan. BBC Panorama reveals new evidence in this regard.

Japan confirmed balloons had flown over its territory and said it would later be prepared to shoot them down.

China has yet to respond to the BBC’s findings directly.

US-China relations were thrown into turmoil earlier this year, when a foreign object suspected of being a Chinese spy balloon was shot down off the US coast.

China claims the balloon spotted over the northwest US in late January was a civilian aircraft being used for scientific research such as meteorology – and that it was a single and accidental event.

John Culver – a former East Asia analyst for the CIA – tells BBC Panorama that this was “not a one-off, but a continuous effort dating back at least five years.”

He said China’s balloons were “specially designed for long-range missions” and some “appear to be circling the globe”.

The BBC is working with Synthetaic, an artificial intelligence company that sifts through vast amounts of data captured by satellites. We found lots of pictures of balloons crossing East Asia.

Synthetaic founder, Corey Jaskolski, found evidence of a balloon crossing northern Japan in early September 2021. This image has not been published before.

Jaskolski also believes the evidence suggests the balloon was launched from the territory of China, south of Mongolia. The BBC was unable to confirm this.

Japan is a close US ally and more American troops are stationed there than in any other country.

Yuko Murakami, of Japan’s Defense Ministry, told the BBC that the Japanese government was “taking all precautions to monitor the situation on a daily basis” and was even willing to shoot down balloons to protect “the life and property of people on Japanese soil”.

The US State Department believes the Chinese balloons are equipped to gather intelligence signals.

The flying object found over the US had “multiple antennae, possibly capable of gathering and geolocating communications”.

To investigate whether China had launched another balloon, the BBC Panorama team searched social media and press reports across the region for sightings of UFOs in the sky.

They found two photos taken by Taiwan’s weather agency, showing a balloon over the capital, Taipei, in late September 2021.

Jaskolski then cross-referenced it with satellite imagery.

“Within 90 seconds, we found the balloon off the coast of Taiwan,” he said.

Taiwan’s government told BBC Panorama they believed it was a weather balloon, but Jakolski disagreed.

“Just based on the diameter of the balloon and the fact that the operating altitude looks similar… it looks very similar to a balloon flying over the United States, over Japan,” he said.

Democratically-ruled Taiwan has long been a concern of China.

Last year the Chinese military launched full-scale strike drills.

US President Joe Biden previously said the US would defend Taiwan if China attacked.

How AI helps find balloons
Corey Jaskolski started with a sketch of what he thought a balloon would look like from outer space.

He then entered this outline into his AI software, along with the rough coordinates of where he was last seen.

He also analyzed wind models to trace the balloon’s path and find its origin.

Corey used satellite images provided by the company Planet Labs, then entered all of the information into his software, RAIC (rapid automatic image categorization), to locate the balloons.

The reconnaissance balloons are huge – the size of several buses – and carry sophisticated equipment capable of gathering vast amounts of data from targets below.

However, judging by satellite photos from space, the balloons look like tiny white lumps.

Jaskolski’s research showed the balloon that flew over the US in February was at a point about 130 kilometers from a nuclear air force base in the state of Montana.

He also charted the balloon’s possible flight path back to the launch site – Hainan Island in the South China Sea.

“It looks like there was cloud cover at launch,” he said. “And if I’m going to launch a balloon, I’ll choose a cloudy day to minimize the chance of being detected.”

In a statement, the Chinese Embassy in London accused the United States of itself of releasing a large number of high-altitude balloons, which continually circle the globe and fly illegally over Chinese airspace.

It said that “China is a responsible nation” that always acts “in strict adherence to international law and respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations”.

It added that it rejected “baseless accusations of undermining and attacking China”.

Source : BBC