China claimed Wednesday that U.S. high-altitude balloons have illegally flown over the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and Tibet in the west of the country since last year, where Washington alleges human rights violations have occurred.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a press conference that the United States has "said nothing" about the claim that it has conducted more than 10 illegal flights over China's airspace since May last year and that it has "even implied China is spreading disinformation."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin speaks at a press conference in Beijing on Feb. 15, 2023. (Kyodo)

The United States has flatly denied the claim by China, made after American forces shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4, worsening bilateral tensions.

Wang said even though China has handled the U.S. balloons "in a calm and professional manner," Washington "overreacted by abusing the use of force."

He urged the United States to "give an explanation to China and the international community, reflect on its behavior, stop smearing and attacking China and stop misleading the U.S. public and the world."

Washington has maintained the Chinese organization that manufactured the balloon has a "direct relationship" with the People's Liberation Army and added six Chinese entities linked to Beijing's alleged spy balloon program to an export blacklist.

But China has insisted the balloon was being used for civilian weather research purposes and that it was accidentally blown off course by strong winds.

Wang told the news conference Wednesday that China is "strongly opposed" to the U.S. blacklisting, saying Washington has used the balloon incident as "an excuse to impose illegal sanctions on Chinese companies and institutions."

He said Beijing will take countermeasures against "relevant U.S. entities that have undermined our sovereignty and security," but did not elaborate on the planned punitive steps.

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