Home WORLD Antony Blinken postpones China visit after Chinese spy balloon spotted in US:...

Antony Blinken postpones China visit after Chinese spy balloon spotted in US: Report


The postponing of Blinken’s trip, which had been agreed to in November by Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, is a blow to those on both sides who saw it as an overdue opportunity to stabilize an increasingly fractious relationship.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a meeting with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, July 9, 2022 (Photo: AP)

By Reuters: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a visit to China that had been expected to start on Friday after a Chinese spy balloon was tracked flying across the United States in what Washington called a “clear violation” of US sovereignty.

The Pentagon said on Thursday it was tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon over the continental United States. Officials said military leaders considered shooting it down over Montana on Wednesday but eventually recommended against this to President Joe Biden because of the safety risk from debris.

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

The administration was aware of China’s statement of regret “but the presence of this balloon in our airspace, it is a clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law. It is unacceptable this occurred,” she told a regular briefing.

On Friday, Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said the balloon had changed course and was now floating eastward at about 60,000 feet (18,300 meters) above the central part of country and demonstrating a capability to maneuver. He said it would likely be over the United States for a few more days.

The Pentagon’s disclosure about the balloon’s maneuverability directly challenges China’s assertion that the balloon was merely a “civilian” airship that had strayed into U.S. territory after being blown off course.

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State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters that in a conversation with Wang Yi, director of China’s Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, Blinken said that he would be prepared to visit Beijing as soon as conditions allow.

Republican Senator Tom Cotton had called for Blinken to cancel his trip, while Republican former President Donald Trump, a declared presidential candidate for 2024, posted “SHOOT DOWN THE BALLOON!” on his Truth Social media platform.


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

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

The official said such balloon surveillance activity had “been observed over the past several years, including in the prior administration – we have kept Congress briefed on this issue.”

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China is keen for a stable U.S. relationship so it can focus on its economy, battered by the now-abandoned zero-COVID policy and neglected by foreign investors alarmed by what they see as a return of state intervention in the market.

In recent months Chinese leader Xi has met with world leaders, seeking to re-establish ties and settle disagreements.

Daniel Russel, the top U.S. diplomat for Asia under then-President Barack Obama, said he did not see a strategic rationale for canceling the trip and stressed the importance of maintaining high-level engagement with China.

“In as much as the U.S. has much bigger fish to fry with the Chinese than a surveillance balloon, the Biden team may be inclined to pick up where they left off after a decent interval,” Russel said. Sino-U.S. relations have soured significantly in recent years, particularly following then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August, which prompted dramatic Chinese military drills near the self-ruled island.


Ryder told reporters on Thursday the balloon was at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and did not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground. One U.S. official added that the balloon was assessed to have “limited additive value from an intelligence collection perspective.”

Another official said the flight path would carry the balloon over a number of sensitive sites, but did not give details. Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana is home to 150 intercontinental ballistic missile silos.

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Ryder declined on Friday to specify where precisely the balloon was, but as he spoke, the National Weather Service in Kansas City said on Twitter it had received multiple reports across northwestern Missouri of a large balloon.

On Wednesday, the Billings, Montana, airport stopped flight arrivals and departures as the military mobilized assets including F-22 fighter jets in case Biden ordered that the balloon be shot down.

Such balloons typically operate at 80,000-120,000 feet (24,000-37,000 meters), well above where commercial air traffic flies. The highest-performing fighter aircraft typically do not operate above 65,000 feet, although spy planes such as the U-2 have a service ceiling of 80,000 feet or more.

China has often complained about surveillance by the United States, including its deployment of ships or planes near Chinese military exercises.

The United States also uses military spy satellites to monitor China’s military buildup, but Taylor Fravel, an expert on China’s military at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he was not aware of any Chinese allegations that U.S. surveillance flights have violated Chinese airspace in recent years.

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