An unidentified balloon was spotted over the sea off Japan's southwestern main island of Kyushu last year, the government said Thursday, in its latest revelation of suspected sightings of Chinese spy balloons similar to the one recently shot down by the United States.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said at a press conference that Japan is working with Washington to determine whether the balloon observed in January 2022 was likely to have been a Chinese balloon similar to the one downed Saturday off the U.S. coast after passing over the continental United States.

File Photo taken on June 17, 2020, shows a flying object spotted in the sky over Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, in northeastern Japan. (Kyodo)


Matsuno said that the balloon was spotted during regular monitoring activities by Japan's Self-Defense Forces, but the top government spokesman did not elaborate on how the SDF responded to the incident.

The administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said that an aerial object flown by a foreign country over Japan's territory without permission would be seen as a violation of its national airspace. In the latest incident reported by the government, the balloon was detected over the sea off Japan and not in its airspace.

Similar flying objects had been previously confirmed in 2020 and 2021 in Japan's northeastern region, the government said earlier.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning warned against Japan-U.S. cooperation in analyzing the airship, saying at a press conference that Tokyo "should uphold an objective and fair position, instead of following the United States in sensationalizing" the issue.

Beijing has claimed the Chinese balloon shot down off the coast of South Carolina was being used for civilian research purposes.

NBC News reported Washington believes Chinese surveillance balloons have flown in the airspace of more than 40 nations, citing administration officials.

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