(Bloomberg) -- A prominent Chinese diplomat said the US should return debris from the balloon it shot down because it is the Asian nation’s property, putting the decision over the aircraft’s remains in Washington’s hands.

“If you pick up something on the street, you should return it to the owner, if you know who the owner is,” said Lu Shaye, China’s ambassador to France. Beijing maintains that the aircraft was a civilian climate research vehicle, though the US says it was for surveillance.

“If the Americans don’t want to return it, that’s their decision. This demonstrates their dishonesty,” Lu said in an interview with French news channel LCI on Monday, according to a transcript posted on the Chinese embassy’s official WeChat account on Wednesday. 

The remarks are the first time that China has officially expressed a desire for the US to return the balloon it downed off South Carolina. US Navy divers are now trying to retrieve its parts.

China’s Foreign Ministry said earlier that it reserved the right to respond to the US’s move, without explaining what that would entail. When asked during a regular press briefing Tuesday whether China wanted the device back, ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning responded: “The airship does not belong to the US. It belongs to China.”

See: Pentagon Says China Refused to Take Call Over Balloon Uproar

The US and China have been in a similar situation before, though with the roles reversed. Back in 2001, the Chinese government handed the US a $1 million bill to cover the costs of housing the crew and returning an American spy plane that crash landed in the southern province of Hainan. The US later said it wound up paying $34,567.

The uproar over the latest incident spurred Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone his scheduled visit to China, which Lu said was ill-timed anyway. 

“Recently the Americans have done a lot of things against China,” Lu said in the same interview, citing US moves including gaining expanded access to military bases in the Philippines. “Even if Mr. Blinken came to China, this would not play a positive role.”

Also: Pentagon Says China Refused to Take Call Over Balloon Uproar

When asked about the allegation that Chinese state-owned companies may be providing assistance for Russia’s war effort in Ukraine, Lu said that “we have not supplied weapons to Russia. Therefore we have done nothing against the peaceful solution to the crisis.”

Pressed whether Chinese companies were selling Russia spare parts that could be used in the war effort, he replied: “But parts are not weapons, are they?”

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