Chinese weather balloon maker denies connection to downed spy balloon

China’s weather balloon manufacturer, Zhuzhou Rubber Research and Design Institute, has denied any connection to the balloon shot down by the United States earlier this month.

Zhuzhou Rubber, a unit of Chinese state chemical giant ChemChina, said it “is mainly engaged in manufacturing sounding balloons of natural latex in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations” and asserted that it was not a military company.

It added in a statement that “our products are used for daily weather forecasting by weather stations, and do not have any connection with the so-called and reported US balloon incident.”

Meanwhile, the US Department of Defense just a few days ago released an image taken by an airman as he flew over the Chinese balloon shot down earlier this month.

The selfie was taken by the spy plane pilot while flying above the balloon and shows the shadow of the plane on the airship and the payload it carried across the US. The existence of the image was initially reported by CNN.

The balloon was initially spotted on 28 January and was taken down by the US military off the coast of South Carolina on 4 February.

Earlier this month, a State Department official said that fly-bys “revealed that the high-altitude balloon was capable of conducting signals intelligence collection operations”.

The balloon wasn’t shot down over land because of its size and the possible damage it could do upon impact on the ground.

China has called the US handling of the balloon incident “hysterical” and an “absurd” act that violated international norms.

Reuters reported that the manufacture of weather balloons in China is dominated by Zhuzhou Rubber, which makes 75 per cent of high-altitude balloons used by the China Meteorological Administration.

Additional reporting by agencies