Blinken postpones his trip to China due to “unacceptable” spy balloon flight over the US

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has postponed a visit to China scheduled to begin on Friday after a suspected Chinese spy balloon was tracked flying over the country in what Washington called a “clear violation” of U.S. sovereignty.

Military officials considered shooting down the high-altitude surveillance balloon on Wednesday, but ultimately advised President Joe Biden not to do so because of the security risk from the wreckage, officials said.

The Pentagon said Friday that another Chinese balloon was observed over Latin America, without saying where exactly.

“We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting through Latin America. We now assess that this is another Chinese surveillance balloon,” Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said.

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden was briefed on the balloon flight on Tuesday and there was an “administration consensus that travel to the People’s Republic of China was not appropriate at this time.”

China regretted that an “airship” used for civilian weather and other scientific purposes had ventured into U.S. airspace.

Jean-Pierre said the U.S. government was aware of the Chinese statement, “but the presence of this balloon in our airspace is a clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law. It is unacceptable that this has happened.”

Spokesman Ryder said Friday that the balloon had changed course and was now hovering east about 18,300 meters above the central part of the country and showed maneuverability. He added that he would probably stay in the country for a few more days.

Commercial forecaster AccuWeather said the balloon could leave the United States and move over the Atlantic on Saturday night. Mike Rounds, a Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Fox News that it would be good to recover the balloon “one way or another” to see “if it was actually designed to collect data or to test our response capabilities.”

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The Pentagon’s revelation about the globe’s maneuverability directly challenges China’s assertion of its course deviation.

At a news conference with South Korea’s foreign minister, Blinken said he told Wang Yi, head of China’s Central Foreign Commission, that the incident on the eve of his trip was an “irresponsible act” by Beijing, but that Washington remained committed and would visit the country when conditions permitted.

Blinken said he would not set a date for his possible trip to China and that the focus was on resolving the current incident. “The first step is to take the surveillance apparatus out of our airspace,” he said, adding that Washington would keep the lines of communication with Beijing open.

Republican House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Michael McCaul said the balloon should never have been allowed into U.S. airspace and could have been shot down over water.

“I call on the Biden administration to swiftly take action to remove the Chinese spy balloon from U.S. airspace,” he said in a statement.

China’s Foreign Ministry said Saturday that the airship flight over the United States was a force majeure accident and accused U.S. politicians and media of taking advantage of the situation to discredit China.

According to the ministry, Wang had told Blinken during their phone call that both sides should communicate in time and avoid any misjudgment.


A White House official said the administration briefed members of the so-called “Gang of 8,” which brings together Republican and Democratic leaders from the Senate and House of Representatives, on Thursday afternoon.

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The official said such balloon surveillance activity “had been observed in recent years, even in the previous administration, we have kept Congress informed on this issue.”

The postponement of Blinken’s trip, which had been agreed in November by Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, is a blow to those who saw him on both sides as an opportunity to stabilize an increasingly fractious relationship. The last visit by a US secretary of state was in 2017.

China wants a stable relationship with the United States so it can focus on its economy, battered by the already abandoned zero-COVID policy and neglected by foreign investors alarmed by what they see as a return of state intervention in the market.

Relations between Washington and Beijing have deteriorated significantly in recent years, particularly following the visit of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan in August, which prompted intense Chinese military maneuvers near the island.


Ryder told reporters Thursday that the balloon was at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and posed no military or physical threat to people on the ground. A U.S. official added that it was assessed as having “limited additive value from an intelligence gathering perspective.”

Another official said the flight path would take the balloon over a number of sensitive locations, but gave no details. Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana is home to 150 silos of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Ryder declined to specify Friday where exactly the balloon was located, but as he spoke, the National Weather Service in Kansas City said on Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) that had received multiple reports throughout northwestern Missouri of a large balloon.

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China has often complained about U.S. surveillance, including the deployment of ships or aircraft near Chinese military maneuvers.

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