American officials said on Friday that China had paused its spy balloon operations after one of the craft floated across much of the United States early this year and was shot down off the coast of South Carolina, setting off a diplomatic crisis between the rival powers.
The officials said that they did not know how long the pause would last, but that given the investments the Chinese government had made in the balloon program, Beijing was likely to restart it.
The spy balloon that crossed the United States was part of a program to collect information about military bases and operations in the Pacific, American officials believe. But since its downing in February, the United States has detected no additional balloon launches. American officials were quick to note, however, that China has continued other espionage operations, including the alleged recruitment of two Navy sailors and the hacking of senior American officials’ emails.
The pause was reported earlier by CNN.
U.S. intelligence agencies had tracked the balloon as it was launched from Hainan Island, headed originally toward Guam and Hawaii, home to important Pacific bases.
But winds blew it off course, and it crossed over Alaska before drifting into Canada and then re-entering the United States near Montana. As the balloon slowly made its way through the central and eastern United States, it became a subject of intense public fascination. President Biden ordered it shot down once it reached the shallow coastal waters off South Carolina.
American officials said the balloon carried sophisticated instruments to collect imagery and communications. But it is not clear how much information the balloon sent back to Beijing during its transit over the United States.
In a statement, Liu Pengyu, the spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said the balloon was used for “meteorological and other research purposes.” Its transit over the United States was “an unexpected, isolated incident,” he said.
“The facts are clear and shall not be distorted or misrepresented,” Mr. Liu said.
But American officials said they had no doubt that the Chinese claim that the balloon was for civilian research was inaccurate.
The incident aggravated an already growing rift in U.S.-Chinese relations, one that the countries are still working to mend. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken delayed an imminent visit he had planned to Beijing, and bilateral relations plummeted to their lowest point in decades. But Mr. Blinken eventually made the trip in June, and China and the United States have in recent weeks opened other discussions intended to ease tensions.