Pentagon reports flight of another balloon over South America, without specifying its exact location.

China says
China says "balloon" in US airspace was an accident caused by force majeure. (Reuters Archive)

A Chinese spy balloon was flying over Latin America, the Pentagon has said, one day after a similar craft was seen over US skies that China described as a "force majeure accident".

"We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America," Pentagon spokesperson Pat Ryder said in a Friday statement, without specifying the balloon's exact location. 

"We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon."

The balloon does not appear to be currently heading to the United States, CNN reported citing a US official.

It comes a day after a huge, high-altitude Chinese balloon sailed across the US, drawing severe Pentagon accusations of spying despite China's firm denials and forcing Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel a high-stakes Beijing trip aimed at easing US-China tensions.

Blinken's cancellation came despite China's claim that the balloon was merely a weather research "airship" that had blown off course.

The Pentagon rejected that out of hand — as well as China's contention that the balloon, about the size of two school buses, was not being used for surveillance and had only limited navigational ability.

China's Foreign Ministry said early on Saturday that flight of a Chinese "airship" over the US was a force majeure accident, accusing US politicians and media of taking advantage of the situation to discredit China.

"China has always strictly abided by international law and respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries," the ministry said in a statement.

The balloon was detected over sensitive military sites in Montana but had moved eastward over the heartland of the central United States by midday and was expected to remain in US airspace for several days, officials said.

On Friday, Pentagon said the balloon had changed course and was floating eastward at about 60,000 feet above the central United States and demonstrating a capability to maneuver. It said the balloon would likely be over the country for a few more days.

READ MORE: Blinken scraps Beijing trip as 'spy balloon' soars across US

China watchers on balloon in US airspace 

In signs poured over by watchers of China policy, Beijing issued an unusual statement of regret over the airspace incident, although it insisted it was a civilian meteorological unit that went astray.

Yun Sun, director of the China programme at the Stimson Center, said that some theorised that the balloon was sent as sabotage by an opponent of better US relations.

She dismissed the idea, noting that Xi himself was expected to meet Blinken.

"I think that's why Blinken's visit had been attached a high level of importance in China, because they actually want to work with the Americans to improve relations, especially given the Chinese priority is in economic recovery," she said.

But Matthew Kroenig, a former defence official now at the Atlantic Council, said the episode could mark a dangerous escalation — a newfound interest by China in US nuclear weapons, many of which are stored in silos in remote western areas of the United States.

Contrary to Pentagon assessments of low intelligence value, China is unlikely to take such risk without seeing benefits, he said.

"In fact, it gave Beijing the ability to better map US intercontinental ballistic missile silos for future targeting and to gauge the US response," he said.

The effort may indicate that China is shifting its doctrine to a goal of eliminating US nuclear weapons in strikes in the event of war, Kroenig said.

READ MORE: Canada monitoring 'potential second incident' linked to spy balloon

Source: AFP