The United States government has confirmed the postponement of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to China, citing the presence of a suspected Chinese spy balloon in American airspace as a breach of sovereignty. A senior official from the Department of State stated on Friday that the conditions for the planned visit, which was scheduled to commence on Sunday, were inappropriate due to the “irresponsible” balloon flight. The official deemed the balloon’s flight an “unacceptable” violation of the country’s sovereignty.
The US government has announced a delay in Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to China, citing an “unacceptable” violation of American sovereignty with the presence of a Chinese spy balloon in US airspace.#ChineseSpyBalloon #AntonyBlinken #ChinaSpyBalloon #spyballoon pic.twitter.com/gCv9dUfMqU
— News Live (@NewsLiveFree) February 4, 2023
China has expressed remorse for the balloon’s intrusion into U.S. airspace, which they claim was a civilian airship used for meteorological research that went astray due to limited self-navigation capabilities. However, the U.S. administration asserts that the aircraft was a high-altitude surveillance balloon. A senior official from the Department of State, speaking anonymously to reporters, stated that despite China’s regret, the balloon’s presence in U.S. airspace violates both sovereignty and international law and is considered unacceptable.
The anonymous official emphasized that despite the balloon incident, communication channels between Washington and Beijing remain open as they endeavor to handle the growing rivalry between the two nations responsibly. The official stated that it was deemed unproductive for Blinken to visit Beijing under the current circumstances but emphasized that this was only a postponement and the Secretary of State intends to travel at the earliest feasible opportunity when conditions permit.
Strain in US-China Relations
Relations between Beijing and Washington have significantly degraded in recent years due to many conflicting issues, such as trade disputes, the situation in Taiwan, territorial claims in the South China Sea, and the United States’ opposition to China’s increasing influence in the Indo-Pacific region. Additionally, the U.S. has also expressed caution towards China potentially assisting Russia in the conflict in Ukraine.
Secretary of State Blinken’s trip, which has now been delayed, was intended to ease tensions between the two nations. This visit would have marked the first time a U.S. Secretary of State visited China since 2018 when then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with his Chinese counterpart but not President Xi Jinping. President Biden and Xi met during the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, in late 2022.
Representatives from both China and the U.S. have emphasized that they do not desire conflict and have warned against transforming the competition between the two nations into a new Cold War. Al Jazeera‘s Kimberly Halkett, reporting from the White House, stated that the balloon incident would have overshadowed Blinken’s visit to China, as there are already numerous substantial issues to be discussed between the two nations, and this would have overshadowed all of them.
Mystery Balloon Spotted Over Northern US
On Thursday, the appearance of a balloon was first noted in Montana, a state located in the northern part of the United States. The next day, the Pentagon stated that the balloon was now positioned over the center of the mainland United States but failed to mention the exact state. The press secretary of the Pentagon, Pat Ryder, informed the media that they have determined that the balloon poses no military or physical danger to those on the ground, and they will continue to observe the situation and consider their options.
Additionally, Ryder emphasized that the balloon is flying at a height above normal air traffic for civilians. He also rejected the claim from China that the balloon was a research aircraft for civilian purposes. Ryder stated firmly that the balloon was, in fact, a surveillance balloon. The incident prompted several Republican members of the U.S. Congress to call for responses and action from the Biden administration.
Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican, demanded a congressional hearing to address the balloon, which he considered a significant threat to domestic security. Congressman Scott Fitzgerald applauded Blinken’s decision to delay his journey but stated that the administration must take stronger measures to communicate to China that espionage against the United States will not be accepted. Other elected officials urged the Pentagon to take action to bring down the balloon.
The Homeland Security Committee needs to have public hearings NOW on the Chinese spy balloon – how did Biden let this happen? Major domestic security threat
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) February 3, 2023
Debris from Balloon Could Pose Threat, Officials Warn
Defense officials in the U.S. have warned that shooting down the aircraft could result in debris that would be hazardous to those on the ground. Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat who serves Montana, deemed the balloon a provocative act that was “completely unacceptable.” In a statement, Tester expressed his frustration with the lack of answers regarding how the incident occurred and what measures the administration took to ensure the country’s safety. He vowed to hold those responsible accountable until he received the answers he sought.
Senator Marsha Blackburn, a Republican, expressed her frustration on Twitter with the decision of the Biden administration not to shoot down the Chinese surveillance balloon currently flying over the United States. She wrote, “Why won’t Biden shoot down the Chinese spy balloon? The Chinese Communist Party poses a threat to our very existence.” Canada, which has a strained relationship with China and shares a border with Montana, called in the Chinese ambassador on Thursday to address the situation. The foreign ministry of Canada stated through an email to Al Jazeera that they would continue to communicate their stance firmly to Chinese officials through various channels.
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