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.

He said: “Frankly [Biden] should have shot it down before it crossed into Alaska.”

The US shot down the alleged Chinese spy balloon on 4 February following days of intrigue over the mysterious white aircraft.

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.

The balloon was shot down by an F-22 fighter aircraft, about six nautical miles off the coast of South Carolina, near Myrtle Beach.

Read more:
What are spy balloons?
Timeline of unidentified objects shot down

It was believed to have flown over the Aleutian Islands, off the coast of Alaska, and over Canada before entering US airspace.

It spent a week flying over both the US and Canada before President Joe Biden ordered it to be shot down.

Mr Bolton said: “I think the presumption should be an unidentified aircraft, that we have no idea what the payload is or its capabilities are, should be shot down before it endangers Americans.”

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Moment ‘spy balloon’ is shot down

Since then, a further three unidentified objects have been shot down on consecutive days over North American airspace as relations remain strained between Washington and Beijing.

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.

The incident has resulted in a diplomatic row between the two countries, with Mr Blinken cancelling a trip to Beijing.

China has also hit back at Washington and claimed US high-altitude balloons had flown over its airspace without permission more than 10 times since the beginning of 2022 – which the White House denies.

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