Former US national security adviser John Bolton has described China as “the existential threat in the 21st century”, after a suspected spy balloon was shot down over North American airspace earlier this month.
He told Sky News: “This balloon should be a wake up call for people in the US, Europe and elsewhere who don’t think China is a threat in the 21st century. In my view, China is the existential threat in the 21st century.
“To be sure this is a serious matter and it’s indicative of the extraordinarily widespread nature of Chinese surveillance efforts against the US and West as a whole.”
Mr Bolton also criticised the Biden administration’s handling of the situation and said the balloon should have been shot down earlier.
The US shot down the alleged Chinese spy balloon on 4 February following days of intrigue over the mysterious white aircraft.
Since then, a further three unidentified objects have been shot down over North American airspace as relations remain strained between Washington and Beijing.
A US defence official said the object was a surveillance balloon that China intended to use on sensitive military sites, but Chinese officials claim it was a weather research device that blew off course.
What are spy balloons?
Timeline of unidentified objects shot down
The balloon was shot down by an F-22 fighter aircraft, about six nautical miles off the coast of South Carolina, near Myrtle Beach.
In a meeting with the Chinese Communist Party’s most senior foreign policy official Wang Yi, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Beijing that sending a “surveillance balloon” over the US was “unacceptable and must never happen again”.
The meeting came hours after the top Chinese diplomat took a swipe at the US, accusing it of violating international norms with “hysterical” behaviour by shooting down the balloon.