The head of China’s weather service has been relieved of his duty, Chinese state media announced on Saturday, in a move seen by some analysts as an attempt to shore up Beijing’s position that the high-altitude balloon flying over the continental US was of civilian nature mainly for meteorological purposes.
The announcement carried by state-run Xinhua news agency came after a senior US defense official said on Thursday that they were tracking a Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon flying over the continental US.
Zhuang Guotai was the head of China Meteorological Administration until Friday, but his departure from that post was not unexpected. In late January, Zhuang was elected the head of the western Gansu province’s People’s Political Consultative Committee, the provincial political advisory body.
US military fighter jets shot down the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon over the Atlantic Ocean off the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed Saturday.
The operation ended a remarkable public drama that prompted a diplomatic fallout between Washington and Beijing, as Americans tracked the balloon from Montana all the way to the Carolinas.