The BBC, in collaboration with artificial intelligence company Synthetaic, analyzed extensive satellite data and uncovered multiple images of balloons traveling all over East Asia, dating as far back as September 2021.
This joint search also revealed that a Chinese spy balloon may have flown over Taiwan this very month.
The BBC Panorama team found two photos taken by Taiwan's weather service showing a balloon flying over Taipei from 2021. Synthetaic Founder and CEO Corey Jaskolski and his company cross-referenced these photos with satellite imagery and located the balloon off the coast of Taiwan.
The Taiwanese government initially believed it to be a weather balloon, but Jaskolski disagreed, noting the similarities between this balloon and similar balloons observed flying over Japan and the United States.
"Just based on the diameter of the balloon and the fact that the operating altitudes look similar… that looks an awful lot like the balloon that flew over the United States, over Japan," said Jakolski.
The United States' federal government believes the Chinese balloons are equipped to gather signals intelligence. The spy balloon spotted flying through the U.S. earlier this year had "multiple antennas, likely capable of collecting and geolocating communications."
Jakolski plotted the flight of this spy balloon and noted that, at one point, it flew as close as 80 miles from a nuclear air force base in Montana. He also plotted the flight path of the balloon back to Hainan Island in southern China. (Related: CCP has been creating spy balloons for YEARS out of a heavily guarded naval base in southern China.)
"It looks like on the … launch [day] there was cloud cover," said Jakolski. "And if I were going to launch a balloon, I would have chosen a cloudy day in order to minimise that chance of detection."
Yuko Murakami from Japan's Ministry of Defense said in a statement to the BBC that the government of Japan was "taking all precautions to monitor the situation on a daily basis" and warned China that it would even be willing to shoot down any spy balloons caught flying over Japanese airspace to protect the "lives and property of people in the territory of Japan."
Meanwhile, the Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense similarly warned that it is willing to shoot down spy balloons launched by the mainland if they are seen as a threat.
"If these balloons are intimidating or risky to Taiwan, we will shoot them down and destroy them to uphold our security," warned Defense Ministry Joint Operations Planning Director and Maj. Gen. Lin Wen-huang during a press conference.
Following the revelation by BBC Panorama, Col. Lo Cheng-yu of the Defense Ministry's intelligence center said that the Republic of China Armed Forces has locked down the situation around the Taiwan Strait and was now actively tracking any and all movements of high-altitude balloons coming from mainland China.
"The Defense Ministry has also maintained first-hand information through the exchange of intelligence with other allies to ensure our overall security," said Lo.
In a statement to the BBC, the Chinese Embassy in the United Kingdom accused the U.S. of releasing a large number of high-altitude surveillance balloons, which have circled the globe continuously, and conducting illegal flights over Chinese airspace.
Learn the latest activities of the Chinese state at CommunistChina.news.
Watch this short clip discussing how the Chinese spy balloon is part of the Chinese Communist Party's long-term plan to take over the United States using innumerable cheap weapons systems.