(Singapore, Feb 17 2023) US President Joe Biden on Thursday detailed his administration’s decision to shoot down a Chinese balloon over American territory, stating he would do whatever was necessary to protect the nation’s sovereignty and that he would “remain in communication” with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In his first address devoted exclusively to the balloon saga, Biden said he expected to speak with the Chinese leader again, citing the importance of keeping US-China channels open to avoid veering “into conflict”. He did not specify when the two presidents planned to speak next.

“We seek competition, not conflict with China, we’re not looking for a new Cold War, but I make no apologies. We will compete and will responsibly manage that competition so that doesn’t veer into conflict. This episode underscores the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between our diplomats and our military professionals.” he told reporters.

China on Thursday before Biden’s speech said the balloon incident was a test of Washington’s ability to manage a crisis.

“The US needs to stop stressing the importance of communication and dialogue while fuelling tensions and escalating the crisis,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin. “The US should also give an explanation for eavesdropping on and stealing secrets from countries around the world.”

The US said the Chinese balloon, reportedly the size of a regional aircraft, included communications equipment and was used for espionage, however, China claimed the unmanned airship as a civilian device meant for meteorological observations. It accused the US of overreacting after it downed the balloon in the Atlantic Ocean with a missile fired from an F-22 fighter jet.

The incident has further strained tense relations between the two powers.

However, Biden said that three unmanned aerial objects shot down over the weekend by the US military were “most likely tied to private companies, recreation or research institutions,” and were not connected to the massive Chinese surveillance balloon.

“We don’t yet know exactly what these three objects were,” he said. “But nothing, nothing right now, suggests they were related to China’s spy balloon programme or that they were surveillance vehicles from any other country.”

Biden said he has directed his administration to develop guidelines allowing the government to better distinguish between airborne objects that present risks to Americans and those that are benign.

These include a more timely and comprehensive database of objects floating over American territory, improved detection abilities, tighter US rules on launching unmanned aerial objects and a bid to develop multilateral norms governing this largely unregulated area.