Blinken cancels China trip after discovery of 'unacceptable' spy balloon
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has postponed his weekend trip to China after a high-altitude Chinese balloon was spotted over Montana.
Blinken informed his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, of the postponement on Friday morning.
According to U.S. officials, the balloon is expected to remain in the country’s airspace for several days after being detected at 60,000 feet over Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, where one of America’s three nuclear missile silo fields is situated.
Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told journalists on Friday that the balloon had already changed course and posed no immediate threat.
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President Joe Biden, who was first briefed about the balloon’s presence on Tuesday, declined to comment when asked about it at a recent economic event.
The Pentagon, which has accused China of using the balloon for spying purposes, said it decided against shooting it down due to the potential risk of debris falling to people on the ground. The agency has also rejected China’s claims that the balloon was simply a weather research airship that had gone off course.
Blinken, who was scheduled to visit Beijing for the first time to ease U.S.-China tensions, temporarily canceled his trip amid the recent developments, which he called "unacceptable and irresponsible."
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A day prior to the Pentagon’s Thursday announcement of the balloon’s discovery, Blinken and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman had both lodged protests to the top official at the Chinese Embassy.
Blinken was earlier scheduled to meet with senior Chinese officials to find some areas of common ground over issues including Taiwan, human rights, China’s claims in the South China Sea, North Korea, Russia’s war in Ukraine, trade policy and climate change.
Despite the trip's postponement, U.S. Officials have clarified that the U.S. remains open for diplomatic talks, noting that Blinken is willing to travel to China at “an appropriate time.”
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The Chinese Foreign Ministry released a statement claiming that the airship had limited self-steering capabilities and had deviated far from its planned course due to strong winds.
“The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into U.S. airspace due to force majeure,” the statement said, citing a legal term referring to events beyond one's control.
Rep. James Comer (R, KY-1), the GOP chairman of the House Oversight Committee, expressed concern over the lack of information surrounding the balloon.
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During an interview with Fox News, Comer criticized the Biden administration for its apparent lack of transparency and action and speculated that the balloon could contain "bioweapons.”
Is that bioweapons, weapons in that balloon? Did that balloon take off from Wuhan? We don’t know anything about that balloon. But the fact that this balloon was slowly making its way to the United States for several days and this administration never alerted anyone about the possibility of this balloon coming up, I think it is very concerning. It’s very concerning. They didn’t shoot it out of the air before it even reached the continental United States.
Former President Trump has similarly urged Biden and his administration to "shoot" the balloon down.
"SHOOT DOWN THE BALLOON," Trump wrote in a Truth Social post.
Meanwhile, Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., called upon the people of Montana to shoot down the balloon themselves on Twitter, but was ridiculed by other users for his suggestion.
If Joe Biden and his administration are too weak to do the obvious and shoot down an enemy surveillance balloon perhaps we just let the good people of Montana do their thing… I imagine they have the capability and the resolve to do it all themselves.
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) February 3, 2023