China has offered an explanation on how a suspected surveillance balloon made its way into American airspace this week.
China’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday that the alleged spy balloon was really a civilian research “airship” that’s mainly used for gathering weather data, and that it had simply “deviated far from its planned course” due to strong winds and the balloon’s limited steering capabilities.
“The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure,” the ministry said in a statement. “The Chinese side will continue communicating with the US side and properly handle this unexpected situation…”
Under international law, force majeure refers to an unforeseen event beyond the control of a state that would prevent it from being able to fulfill its international obligations.
Beijing’s response comes a day after U.S. officials said that the “high-altitude surveillance balloon” was detected over Montana, after having made its way over Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and Canada.
Because Montana is home to the Malmstrom Air Force Base—one of three bases that hold and operate Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles—the balloon spotting sparked fears that China was trying to observe the facility.
This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.