Blinken tells China its spy balloon was ‘irresponsible’ after canceling Beijing trip

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  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will postpone his trip to Beijing because of a Chinese surveillance balloon flying over the United States.
  • China’s foreign ministry said on Friday that the balloon was a civilian weather balloon intended for scientific research that blew up en route.
  • Pentagon officials said the balloon was flying high enough, above 60,000 feet, to not pose a threat to civilian aircraft. It is expected to remain over US airspace for a few more days.

WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed indefinitely what was already a tense trip to China on Friday, citing a Chinese reconnaissance balloon headed east across the United States as a threat to national security. created danger.

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Blinken was to leave for Beijing on Friday night, on a trip aimed at strengthening communication and cooperation between the two countries.

Instead, he told Wang Yi, director of China’s Central Foreign Affairs Office, in a phone call on Friday that the balloon was an “irresponsible act and a clear violation of US sovereignty and international law that undermined the purpose of the trip,” According to one reading of the discussion.

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Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told NBC News that the Defense Department was aware of reports of another balloon “moving over Latin America. We now assess that this is another Chinese surveillance balloon.”

Over the past year, Chinese President Xi Jinping has deepened tensions with the US by forging a closer alliance with Russian President Vladimir Putin and by stepping up military aggression against Taiwan.

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Blinken had planned to meet with his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Affairs Minister Qin Gang, and expected to see Xi as well.

China’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday that the balloon was a civilian weather airship designed for scientific research, which blew up while en route. It described the incident as the result of an “force majeure” for which it was not responsible.

This claim was summarily dismissed by US officials. A senior Pentagon official told reporters Thursday night that the object was apparently a surveillance balloon flying over sensitive sites to gather intelligence.

“We have taken note of the PRC’s statement of regret, but the presence of this balloon in our airspace is a clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law and it is unacceptable that this has happened,” the official said.

Defense officials said the balloon was moving east at an altitude above 60,000 feet, so it was not a threat to civilian aircraft.

The FAA said in a statement late Friday that the Federal Aviation Administration and the Pentagon were working closely “to support any necessary US government response” to the balloon.

The agency said, “The balloon does not currently pose a threat to civil aviation. If that changes, the FAA stands ready to take action.”

On Friday afternoon, Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall, a Republican, reported that the balloon was flying over his home state.

Defense officials said the Pentagon considered shooting down the balloon earlier this week, but decided against it after briefing President Joe Biden. The decision was taken in consultation with senior leaders including General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

The Pentagon official said Biden concluded that the US would not shoot down the balloon because debris from it could damage the ground. Furthermore, any information gathered by the balloons would have “limited add value” compared to China’s spy satellites.

“At this stage, we are monitoring this and reviewing options,” said Pentagon spokesman US Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters that officials expect the balloon to remain in US airspace for a few days.

Beijing’s apparent provocation so close to Blinken’s visit raised alarms on Capitol Hill.

“It is not a coincidence that this is happening just before Blinken goes to Beijing,” said Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“They do things like this to humiliate the other side, to show power and to send a message. I don’t think it was a coincidence. I think it’s a coincidence,” Rubio said on the radio talk show “The Mike Gallagher” on Friday. It was definitely connected to that.” Show.”

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who represents the state where the balloon was flying Thursday, said he was in contact with Defense Department and intelligence officials about the matter. One of the country’s three nuclear missile silo areas is at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana.

On Friday, Tester announced he would hold a Senate hearing on the balloon, but did not specify exactly when.

“I am demanding answers from the Biden administration. I will be pulling people before my committee to get real answers on how this happened and how we can prevent it from happening again,” he said in a statement announcing the hearing. For.”

The Montana Democrat chairs the Defense Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He is widely seen as one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the Senate for re-election in 2024.

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The spy balloon incident comes at a time of high tensions between the United States and China. US officials have long worried about Beijing’s territorial expansion in the South China Sea and its aggressive efforts to control Taiwan, but their concerns have increased recently.

On Thursday, Austin was in the Philippine capital, Manila, where the two countries announced that the Philippines would grant the United States expanded access to its military bases. The island nation is strategically located in the southeast corner of the South China Sea, about 750 miles from Taiwan.

Austin said expanding access for US troops was “especially important as the People’s Republic of China continues to assert its illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea, using the phrase designated by the Philippines to refer to parts of the South China Sea”. continues to advance.”

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., requested a classified briefing for the so-called Gang of Eight, which is made up of Republican and Democratic leaders of both the House and Senate, and leaders of both parties in the Senate. House Intelligence Committee.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D.Y. told NBC News late Friday.

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