Japan is examining whether there are links between a suspected Chinese spy balloon that the U.S. military shot down and reports of a flying object spotted in the northeastern area of the nation a few years ago, a government spokesman said Monday.
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihiko Isozaki said at a press conference that the government has confirmed the flying object was observed in 2020 and 2021 over Miyagi and Aomori prefectures, respectively, adding it will continue to seek to establish the facts around the incident.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told a press conference Monday that she was unaware of the flying object spotted in Japan.
Isozaki said that a balloon or any other aerial object being flown by a foreign country in Japan's territory without permission would usually be recognized as a violation of the country's national airspace, prompting the Air Self-Defense Force to take necessary steps, including the scrambling of fighter jets.
Meanwhile, Isozaki declined to comment on precisely what measures were taken at the time by the ASDF in dealing with the flying object.
When a white, balloon-like object was spotted by residents of Miyagi and neighboring Fukushima prefectures in June 2020, local authorities sent a helicopter to investigate but were ultimately unable to identify it or determine its origin.
There was significant speculation in the media, however, about the object, with stories about it going viral as many voiced curiosity and excitement on Twitter.
The object has come under the spotlight again after a Chinese balloon was detected traveling over the continental United States last week, prompting U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone his planned visit to Beijing.
Although the Chinese government has claimed the balloon was being used for "civilian" research purposes and accidentally deviated from its intended route, the U.S. military shot it down off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday.