Balloon over China skies prompts local airport to redirect flights

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A balloon of unknown origin spotted flying over a northern Chinese city prompted the local airport to redirect flights Thursday, highlighting growing concern in both the US and China about unidentified objects in their airspace.

Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province, had to redirect multiple flights bound for its Zhengding International Airport around noon time, local media Red Star News reported.

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The airport operator was cited as saying the move was due to the airspace being “occupied” between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. local time. The outlet said it later learned from the civil aviation agency for northern China that the disturbance was caused by a balloon, without giving more detail about the object.

A spokesperson for the airport and the Civil Aviation Administration of China didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from Bloomberg News.

The incident went viral on China’s social media platform Weibo, putting “Shijiazhuang” on top of its list of most searched keywords. Reader interest continued to spike on Friday with one topic, “Shijiazhuang redirected multiple flights over a balloon,” amassing 20 million views.

China and the US have been trading barbs since the Biden administration earlier this month shot down what it said was a spy balloon that had drifted over the continental US.

Beijing has warned that it’ll retaliate against the US over violations of its sovereignty. President Joe Biden said Thursday evening in the US that he expects to soon speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping about the incident, signaling a desire to avoid further escalation of tensions.

The incident in Shijiazhuang was the second time in a week that reports have surfaced of an unidentified balloon in Chinese airspace. Another unidentified object was spotted near a major naval base and also attracted a surge of Chinese social media attention, before discussion on the topic mysteriously fell off the trending lists.

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