State Department calls Chinese spy balloon a 'clear violation of sovereignty' trends now
The U.S. cancelled Secretary of State Antony Blinken's long-planned trip to China over a Chinese 'spy' balloon that the State Department called a 'clear violation' of U.S. sovereignty.
Although U.S. diplomats noted a rare statement of regret from China, the U.S. determined that Blinken's trip could not be 'productive' under the circumstances, with the spy balloon still traveling over U.S. airspace at 60,000 feet under monitoring by the U.S. military.
The decision puts on hold Blinken's planned visit, which was to feature a landmark meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, on a trip President Biden and Xi announced the visit during their own high-stakes summit meeting in Bali in November.
'We do acknowledge, we note the PRC statement of regret,' a senior State Department said Friday when announcing the decision. 'But again, the presence of this balloon in our airspace is clearly unacceptable and a clear violation of our sovereignty. And our clear assessment was that under these current conditions, it wouldn't be constructive to visit Beijing at this time.'
Deflating: Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Beijing of his decision to postpone his trip to China Friday morning in what the State Department called a clear violation of U.S. 'sovreignty'
Blinken 'postponed' his planned trip 'following the detection of a suspected spy balloon over the United States, which Beijing has claimed is a civilian airship which blew off course.'
Notably, the official would not state when pressed by reporters whether the U.S. believed Beijing's excuse.
ABC News had reported Blinken didn't want to blow up the situation with the cancellation, while not wanting it to dominate his agenda while there.
But 'in this current environment it would have significantly narrowed the agenda that we would have been able to address,' the senior official said.
The trip was postponed on Friday morning after the balloon was detected earlier this week and monitored flying worryingly close to sensitive nuclear sites in Montana.
'We know that it’s a surveillance balloon,' Air Force Brig Gen. Gen Ryder told reporters Friday. He said it was flying at 60,000 feet and posed no risk to Americans, but would not provide exact location information as it made its way across the continental U.S., moving eastward from Montana.
While the military tracked the balloon, U.S. diplomats raised the matter with top Chinese diplomats in Washington and Beijing, while contacting allies as well.
'Once the balloon was detected, the US government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information. We've directly communicated with the PRC government through multiple levels about this Issue,' said the official.
Blinken told China's ministry of Foreign Affairs of his decision Friday morning, and his apparent government jet was spotted at Joint Base Andrews late Friday morning, in a sign of the sudden cancellation.
But given the high stakes with Taiwan, North Korea, and other issues on the table, the U.S. says the cancellation is temporary.
'After consultations with our interagency partners, as well as with Congress, we have concluded that the conditions are not right at this moment for Secretary Blinken to travel to China,' said the official. 'We believe in diplomacy to responsibly manage the most complex bilateral relationship we have. We are committed to maintaining open lines with the PRC at all times, including during this incident.'
'I'm confident that our channels of communication will remain as important as ever and those channels to remain open,' the official added.
China's foreign ministry said the balloon 'seriously deviated from the scheduled route' and expressed regret that 'the airship strayed into the United States due to force majeure' and claimed it was used for scientific research 'such as meteorology' – something Pentagon disputed.
The detection of the balloon, which triggered alarm in the White House and the Pentagon, adds to a series of recent controversies that have further strained the tense relationship between China and the United States.
Beijing had urged calm while it established the 'facts' before a statement on Friday morning said the balloon was a weather research device that had 'deviated far from its planned course'.
The Chinese foreign ministry said it regretted that the balloon had mistakenly entered US airspace. Republican leaders and former President Donald Trump had led calls for the balloon to be show down.
A US defense official said the balloon is the size of several buses - but doesn't post an immediate threat to Americans. The balloon, pictured over Montana, has been tracked for several days but officials decided not to shoot it down over fears about debris. China claims it is a civilian airship used for meteorological research
The balloon - which is as large as three buses - was detected earlier this week and recently entered airspace in Montana, triggering fears it could be monitoring nuclear sites there.
China further blamed the balloon's entry into US airspace on its limited steering capability. Independent modeling suggested the balloon would be over southeast Missouri by Saturday.
A statement added: 'The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into U.S. airspace due to force majeure,' citing a legal term used to refer to events beyond one's control.
The US is yet to respond to China's claim about the balloon's provenance but the cancellation of the Blinken visit indicates the White House's anger over the debacle.
Officials in the US said it was 'confident' of preserving communications with China and that the visit would be rescheduled once conditions are 'right'.
The fiasco is yet another escalation of the tensions between the United States and China. CIA director William Burns said on Thursday that President Xi had ordered the Chinese military to be prepared for an invasion of Taiwan by 2027.
Burns' comments followed calls from senators for TikTok to be removed from Apple and Google's app stores over fears the hugely-popular Chinese-owned app posed a threat to national security.
Republican senators had called on Blinken to cancel the trip, which was agreed by Biden and President Xi.
Montana Senator Steve Daines feared the Chinese balloon floating above the state was targeting nuclear missile fields installed there.
US officials said they have taken 'custody' of the balloon. They are thought to believe it has 'limited additive value from an intelligence collection perspective'.
A model of the path the balloon is thought to have taken, created by meteorologist Dan Satterfield, showed it originated in central China
The balloon flew over the Aleutian Islands in the northern Pacific Ocean, and then crossed Canadian airspace into the United States. Canada is monitoring a 'potential second incident'