The Chinese government said it "regrets" its weather surveillance "airship" accidentally flew over American airspace after the Pentagon said a purported spy balloon had flown over Montana and Republicans called for it to be shot down.
The country's Foreign Ministry said in a statement the balloon is a "civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes" that "deviated far from its planned course" after being impacted by the prevailing Westerlies and its "limited self-steering capability."
“The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into U.S. airspace due to force majeure. The Chinese side will continue communicating with the U.S. side and properly handle this unexpected situation caused by force majeure.”
The balloon's appearance galvanized Republicans who said it presents a threat to national security and suggested Democratic President Joe Biden should shoot it down even though a Pentagon official said the balloon is traveling “well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.”
But the Pentagon's statement has not stopped Republicans like Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene from advocating it be shot down anyway.
Greene said on Twitter Biden "should shoot down the Chinese spy balloon immediately" and claimed former Republican President Donald Trump "would have never tolerated" it or "many things happening to America."
Trump's former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke urged the Biden administration to "Take the shot" and referred to the balloon as "clear provocation."
Trump himself also weighed in, writing "SHOOT THE BALLOON" in a post on his social media platform, the conservative playground Truth Social.
Many criticized the Republicans for recommending such drastic action, which could escalate tensions between the two nations.
A spokesperson for Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced he postponed a trip to Beijing next week after the balloon was spotted over the United States.
A senior State Department official said the U.S. is "committed to maintaining open lines" with China "at all times, including during this incident" and that Blinken would travel to Beijing "at the earliest opportunity when conditions allow."
The Pentagon confirmed shooting the balloon down would not be pertinent because it is "large enough to cause damage from the debris field if we downed it over an area."