US Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a trip to China that had been scheduled to begin on Friday (Feb. 3), following the tracking of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon flying across the United States in what Washington termed a “clear infringement” of US sovereignty.
Officials said that military officers debated firing down the high-altitude surveillance balloon on Wednesday, but ultimately advised President Joe Biden against doing so due to the danger posed by debris.
Friday, the Pentagon said that another Chinese balloon was spotted over Latin America, without specifying where.
“There are stories of a balloon traveling around Latin America. We now believe it to be an additional Chinese surveillance balloon,” Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Patrick Ryder stated.
Biden was told on Tuesday on the balloon fly over the United States, and there was an administration “consensus that it was not appropriate to travel to the People’s Republic of China at this time,” according to White House spokesman Karine Jean-Pierre.
China expressed sadness that a “airship” used for meteorological and other scientific purposes by civilians had entered US airspace.
Jean-Pierre stated that the United States government was aware of China’s remark “However, the existence of this balloon in our airspace violates both our sovereignty and international law. It is inexcusable that this transpired.”
On Friday, Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said that the balloon had altered direction and was now flying eastward at an altitude of approximately 18,300 meters over the center of the United States, proving its capacity to maneuver. He predicted that it will remain above the country for several more days.
The Pentagon’s statement of the balloon’s maneuverability clearly contradicts China’s claim that it was blown off track.
Blinken stated at a news conference with the visiting South Korean foreign minister later on Friday that he had told Wang Yi, director of China’s Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, that the incident on the eve of his trip was a “irresponsible act” by China, but that Washington remained committed to engagement and he would visit when conditions permitted.
Blinken stated that he would not set a date for when he would travel to China, since the present crisis was the priority.
“The initial step is… removing the surveillance asset from our airspace,” he said, adding that the United States will continue to keep communication channels open with China.
Michael McCaul, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stated that the balloon should have never been let in US airspace and might have been shot down over sea.
On Thursday afternoon, the administration informed the so-called Gang of 8, which consists of Republican and Democratic leaders from the Senate and House, according to a White House official.
The person stated that similar surveillance balloon activity had been “seen over the past few years, even during the previous administration – we have kept Congress informed on this matter.”
The postponement of Blinken’s trip, which had been agreed upon in November by Vice President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, is a setback for many on both sides who viewed it as a long-overdue chance to mend a deteriorating relationship. 2017 marked the latest visit by a US secretary of state.
China desires a stable relationship with the United States so it can focus on its economy, which has been pummeled by the now-abandoned zero-COVID policy and neglected by foreign investors fearful of a return of state meddling in the market.
In recent months, Chinese leader Xi has engaged with international leaders in an effort to mend ties and resolve differences.
Daniel Russel, the senior US diplomat for Asia under the administration of former president Barack Obama, stated that he could not see a strategic justification for canceling the trip and emphasized the significance of continuing high-level interaction with China.
Russel stated, “Given that the United States has much more pressing issues with the Chinese than a surveillance balloon, the Biden team may be tempted to start up where they left off after a reasonable break.”
In recent years, Sino-American ties have deteriorated substantially, notably after former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s August visit to Taiwan, which sparked massive Chinese military exercises near Taiwan.