China has told the United States the balloon it shot down last weekend “does not belong to America” as the search for debris in the Atlantic continued. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning made the comments during a scheduled press conference in Beijing on Tuesday, adding that the balloon “is Chinese”. She said: “The Chinese government will continue to resolutely defend its legitimate rights and interests.” Mao was responding to US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby’s remarks that the US had no “intention or plan” to return the wreckage of the alleged spy balloon, parts of which were pulled out of the water on Tuesday . Mao repeated Beijing’s position that the balloon is used for civilian purposes and had entered US airspace by accident , and insisted it “did not pose any threat to American lives or national security”. “The US side should have handled such incidents properly in a calm, professional and peaceful manner, but their insistence on using force is clearly an overreaction,” she said. The row over the balloon prompted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to pull out of a planned visit to China this week. The US military said it had recovered most of the remnants of the balloon from the surface of the sea, but it was still collecting fragments underwater. An amphibious warship, explosive and ordnance divers and underwater robots are all taking part in the recovery mission after an F-22 shot down the high-altitude balloon with an anti-aircraft missile on Saturday, about 10km (6 miles) from the coast of South Carolina. The balloon’s payload alone was about the size of a regional commercial aircraft and weighed about 900kg (2,000lb), according to Air Force General Glen VanHerck, the head of US Northern Command. China-US ties: will spy balloon fallout bring ‘instability’ to Southeast Asia? The US says it came down in an area of about 1.5 square km (0.6 square miles) and in relatively shallow waters of about 15 metres (50ft), using sonar to map the debris. An area of 26 square km in size has been closed off because there is a risk that explosives may be on board, VanHerck said. Reports of the balloon first emerged when it was spotted over the landlocked state of Montana, but Kirby said the US had waited until it was over the sea before shooting it down because it was safer and would make it easier to recover and study the wreckage. He added that this had provided the Americans with a “terrific opportunity” to collect intelligence and information from the balloon. US government officials are adamant that the balloon was surveilling US military installations, while Beijing has repeatedly insisted that the vessel was for civilian research purposes, mainly meteorological. It said the balloon, as well as a second one spotted over South America, had been blown off its planned route. The US will prioritise gathering information about the balloon and discussing the situation with its allies before talking to Beijing about rescheduling Blinken’s visit, the State Department said on Monday.