The Chinese government said on Friday that the massive "airship" floating over nuclear sites in Montana is used for "meteorological and other scientific research," marking the first time Beijing claimed responsibility for the suspected spy balloon.
China said it is investigating the balloon, which has been spotted in recent days over the Western United States, and claimed it blew off course. President Joe Biden has refused to shoot down the vessel, which is suspected of spying on nuclear launch sites, allegedly following advice from the Pentagon over fears of falling debris.
The news comes after Canada said early Friday it was tracking a potential second balloon in its airspace. China has not yet claimed responsibility for a second balloon.
Republicans have criticized Biden for failing to shoot down the potential spy device, accusing the president of jeopardizing national security.
Former president Donald Trump on Truth Social called for Biden to "SHOOT DOWN THE BALLOON!" Montana Republican governor Greg Gianforte said he was "deeply troubled" by the national security risks posed by China, pointing also to the Chinese-owned TikTok spyware app and the Chinese government's purchasing of American farmland.
Montana senator Steve Daines (R.) demanded a "full security briefing from the administration on this situation."
"It is vital to establish the flight path of this balloon, any compromised U.S. national security assets, and all telecom or IT infrastructure on the ground within the U.S. that this spy balloon was utilizing," he said.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) also called for a briefing for the "Gang of Eight," a select group of lawmakers that reviews sensitive national security information.
"China's brazen disregard for U.S. sovereignty is a destabilizing action that must be addressed, and President Biden cannot be silent," McCarthy said Thursday night.
Mao Ning, a spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry, said that "hyping up the issue will not help to properly resolve it."
She warned the Biden administration against "making conjectures" until "the facts are clear."