As US detects Chinese surveillance balloon, Blinken calls off Beijing visit | World News - Hindustan Times
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As US detects Chinese surveillance balloon, Blinken calls off Beijing visit

By, Washington
Feb 04, 2023 12:11 AM IST

China sought to limit the damage caused by the incident and expressed regret. In a statement on Friday, a foreign ministry spokesperson in Beijing acknowledged that the “airship” was from China but claimed it was a “civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological purposes”.

Hours after the United States said it had detected a “high-altitude surveillance balloon” deployed by China over Montana, home to one of America’s nuclear missile sites, Secretary of State Antony J Blinken called off his trip to Beijing scheduled for next week.

The suspected Chinese surveillance balloon in the sky over Billings, Montana. (AFP)
The suspected Chinese surveillance balloon in the sky over Billings, Montana. (AFP)

China sought to limit the damage caused by the incident and expressed regret. In a statement on Friday, a foreign ministry spokesperson in Beijing acknowledged that the “airship” was from China but claimed it was a “civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological purposes”.

“Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course. The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure”.

Also read | How China spy balloon over US adds tension ahead of talks in Beijing

The Pentagon stated on Friday that the balloon had moved eastward and was over central US, adding that the US rejected China’s claims that it was not being used for surveillance.

On Thursday evening in Washington DC, a senior Pentagon official had said that that the US had high confidence that the balloon had been deployed by China; President Joe Biden had been briefed and “asked for military options”; the balloon had been detected over Montana, home to one of the US’s three nuclear silos; the US knew “exactly where the balloon is” and had taken additional mitigation steps; and Washington had engaged with Chinese officials “with urgency through multiple channels”.

The official said that while such surveillance balloons had been deployed in the past, it had stayed for a much longer period of time over US and at a much higher altitude in this case.

But the official said that after a careful reward-risk assessment, the US had decided not to shoot it down. If the US shot it, given the risk of the debris falling and hurting somebody, the Pentagon official said that it had decided not to do so.

But the revelation of the surveillance had an immediate impact on planned diplomatic engagement between the US and China and provoked outrage on the Hill in the US Congress.

By Friday morning, Blinken’s trip to Beijing — which would have been the first visit by a secretary of state to China since 2018 — was called off. This planned visit was a product of a dialogue between President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping in Bali on the sidelines of G20 last year. While explicitly laying out its concerns about Chinese activities and actions in a range of domains, the US said the dialogue — and future engagements — was a part of its efforts to institute “guardrails” to ensure that the strategic competition didn’t descend into conflict.

Explaining the decision on the visit, State Department officials told US media outlets, on the condition of anonymity, that the spy balloon was a “clear violation of sovereignty and international law”. They added that a visit at this juncture would not be “constructive” and the agenda would be “significantly narrowed”.

Mike Gallagher and Raja Krishnamoorthi, chair and ranking member of a House committee on the strategic competition with China, said the Chinese Communist Party should not have “on-demand access to American airspace”.

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