(LEAD) U.S. not the only country affected by Chinese spy balloons: Kirby
(ATTN: UPDATES with reports of a press briefing by White House spokesperson in last 3 paras)
By Byun Duk-kun
WASHINGTON, Feb. 8 (Yonhap) -- The United States is not the only country affected by Chinese spy balloons, a National Security Council (NSC) official said Wednesday, adding that China has been improving its surveillance program for years.
John Kirby, NSC coordinator for strategic communications, said the U.S. plans to discuss the issue with its allies and partners.
"We are going to have conversations with allies and partners about this program," he said of China's surveillance program.
The U.S. shot down an alleged Chinese spy balloon over the weekend after the balloon made its way across the continental U.S. to the Atlantic Ocean.
Beijing claims it was a weather balloon that belonged to a private Chinese company. The U.S. is currently trying to retrieve the balloon, which was shot down in U.S. air space over the Atlantic, but says the balloon was significantly larger than any weather balloons and that it was believed to be carrying spy equipment.
"This is a program that the Chinese have been working on for several years. They have been trying to improve it, and grow it, and increase it and to gain intelligence insight from it," Kirby said during a press conference at the Washington Foreign Press Center.
"And we think it's important for our allies and partners to also be made aware," he added.
The NSC official declined to comment when asked if such spy balloons had been detected over the Korean Peninsula, but said the U.S. is "not the only nation that has been affected by this."
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated that Chinese spy balloons have been spotted in five continents.
"These balloons are all part of a PCR fleet of balloons developed to conduct surveillance operation," she said when asked to confirm earlier reports that Chinese spy balloons have been detected over countries such as Japan and Taiwan, referring to China by its official name, the People's Republic of China.
"And over the past several years, Chinese balloons have previously been spotted over countries across five continents. We have been in touch with allies and partners on this issue," she added.
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