During his State of the Union Address Tuesday night, President Joe Biden cast the recent downing of a suspected Chinese spy balloon as a signal of American resolve, despite the fact that the balloon was not shot down until a week after it entered U.S. airspace and days after it was allowed to hover over sensitive military facilities in Montana.
America is currently "in the strongest position in decades to compete with China or anyone else in the world," Biden said before a joint session of Congress.
"But make no mistake: as we made clear last week, if China's threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did. And let's be clear: winning the competition with China should unite all of us. We face serious challenges across the world. Not anymore," he added.
The balloon was shot down on Saturday off the Carolina coast, one week after it was allowed to enter U.S. airspace over the Aleutian Islands and traverse over much of the Northwest U.S., including some time spent hovering over Montana's Malmstrom Air Force Base, a sensitive military facility that houses nuclear-missile silos.
The Pentagon first became aware of the balloon on Saturday, January 28 but decided not to publicize the incursion so as not to jeopardize Secretary of State Blinken's then forthcoming trip to Beijing, Bloomberg reported.
After the balloon began generating national media attention, the State Department opted to postpone the trip, though that decision was not made until Friday, hours before Blinken was set to depart, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The Pentagon claims it decided against shooting the balloon down earlier in the week due to concerns the resulting debris would harm civilians or property.
Republicans ripped into Biden for the delayed response over the weekend. During a Sunday appearance on Meet the Press, Representative Mike Turner, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, took the administration to task for acting only after the balloon had the opportunity to gather intelligence.
"Clearly the president taking it down over the Atlantic is sort of like tackling the quarterback after the game is over," Turner said. "The satellite had completed its mission. This should never have been allowed to enter the United States, and it never should've been allowed to complete its mission. If you ask somebody to draw an X at every place where our sensitive missile defense sites, our nuclear weapons infrastructure, our nuclear weapon sites are, you would put them all along this path."
Although the Pentagon press secretary, Brigadier General Pat Ryder, insisted that "We know that it's a surveillance balloon," the Chinese Foreign Ministry denied such allegations.
"The airship is from China. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes," a spokesperson for the agency noted in a statement.
Biden Returns Donation from Dem Ex-Senator Who Registered as Foreign Agent for China
China Increases Pressure, 'Coercion' against Taiwan, Blinken Says
Biden Breaks Silence on Looming Gun Charges against Hunter: 'He's Established a New Life'