Washington, Feb 3 (The Street Press) – The U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, had to delay his trip to China. This happened because the U.S. noticed a Chinese spy balloon flying across the country, which the U.S. government said was a big problem and “clear violation”.
On Wednesday, the military leaders thought about shooting down a high-flying spy balloon, but they decided not to because it could be dangerous due to falling debris. This advice was given to President Joe Biden.
The Pentagon told us on Friday that they spotted another Chinese balloon flying over Latin America, but they didn’t say exactly where. The Pentagon spokesman, Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, said, “We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America. We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon”.
White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre mentioned that President Biden was informed on Tuesday about the balloon flying over the United States. After discussions within the administration, they all agreed that it wasn’t a good time for the President to visit China. China, on the other hand, expressed regret, stating that the “airship” was intended for civilian meteorological and scientific use and unintentionally entered U.S. airspace.
Jean-Pierre emphasized that the U.S. government was aware of China’s statement but firmly stated, “The presence of this balloon in our airspace is a clear violation of our sovereignty and international law. It is unacceptable this occurred.”
Pentagon spokesperson Ryder, on Friday, noted that the balloon had altered its course and was now moving eastward at an altitude of around 60,000 feet (18,300 meters) above the central United States. It demonstrated the ability to maneuver, and it was expected to remain over the country for a few more days.
AccuWeather, a commercial forecasting company, predicted that the balloon might exit the United States and head over the Atlantic on Saturday evening. Mike Rounds, a Republican senator on the Armed Services Committee, expressed the importance of recovering the balloon, either to check if it was genuinely for data collection or to test the U.S. response capabilities.
The Pentagon’s revelation about the balloon’s ability to change direction contradicts China’s explanation that it was blown off course.
During a press conference with South Korea’s foreign minister on Friday, Secretary Blinken mentioned that he had a conversation with Wang Yi, who heads China’s Central Commission for Foreign Affairs. He described the balloon incident as “an irresponsible act” by China, but he also stressed that the U.S. was committed to engagement and would plan a visit when the right conditions existed.
Blinken refrained from specifying a date for his potential trip to China, underlining that the primary focus was on resolving the current situation, particularly by removing the surveillance balloon from U.S. airspace. He stated that the U.S. would keep communication channels open with China.
Michael McCaul, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed his concern, stating that the Chinese spy balloon should have never been allowed in U.S. airspace and could have been intercepted over water. He called on the Biden administration to promptly take action to remove the balloon from U.S. airspace.
China’s foreign ministry, in statements on Saturday, referred to the flight of the “airship” over the United States as a force majeure accident, and they accused U.S. politicians and media of using the incident to tarnish China’s reputation.
The ministry also mentioned that Wang had conveyed to Blinken during their phone conversation that it was important for both parties to maintain timely communication and prevent any misunderstandings.
A White House official stated that the administration had provided a briefing to the staff of the “Gang of 8,” a group that includes both Republican and Democratic leaders from the Senate and House, on Thursday afternoon.
The official noted that balloon surveillance activities like this had been observed over the past few years, even during the previous administration, and Congress has been kept informed about this issue.
The delay of Secretary Blinken’s trip, which had been scheduled since November and was agreed upon by President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, is disappointing for those who hoped it could help improve the increasingly strained U.S.-China relationship. The last visit by a U.S. secretary of state occurred in 2017.
China is eager to have a stable relationship with the U.S., as this would allow them to concentrate on their economy, which has faced challenges due to their past zero-COVID policy and concerns from foreign investors about increased state intervention in the market.
In recent months, Chinese leader Xi has been actively meeting with world leaders to mend relationships and resolve disputes.
Daniel Russel, a former top U.S. diplomat for Asia during President Barack Obama’s tenure, expressed that he didn’t see a strategic reason for canceling the trip and stressed the importance of maintaining high-level engagement with China. He suggested that, given the broader challenges in U.S.-China relations, the Biden administration might consider resuming discussions with China after a reasonable pause.
Sino-U.S. relations have been strained in recent years, especially following Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August, which led to significant Chinese military exercises near the self-governed island.
LIMITED INTELLIGENCE VALUE
Pentagon spokesperson Ryder informed reporters on Thursday that the balloon was flying at an altitude significantly higher than commercial air traffic and posed no military or physical threat to people on the ground. According to one U.S. official, its intelligence collection capabilities were considered to have limited value.
Another official mentioned on Thursday that the flight path would take the balloon over several sensitive sites but didn’t provide specific details. Notably, Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana is home to 150 intercontinental ballistic missile silos.
Ryder, when asked on Friday, refrained from disclosing the exact location of the balloon. However, while he was speaking, the National Weather Service in Kansas City tweeted that they had received multiple reports in northwestern Missouri of a large balloon.
It’s worth noting that China has frequently raised concerns about U.S. surveillance activities, including the deployment of ships or aircraft near Chinese military exercises.