U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has delayed his trip to Beijing due to a Chinese surveillance balloon that was detected moving east across the United States.
The balloon is seen as a violation of U.S. sovereignty and international law and has caused an uproar among the U.S. government. The Pentagon is working closely with the FAA to ensure public safety. President Biden also postponed his top diplomat’s first official trip to China in response to the Pentagon’s discovery of the balloon. This move is seen as a sign of increased tensions between the U.S. and China.
According to a readout of the conversation, Antony Blinken informed Wang Yi, the director of China’s Central Foreign Affairs Office, via phone call on Friday that the balloon was a “irresponsible act and a clear violation of U.S. sovereignty and international law that undermined the purpose of the trip.”
The Defense Department was aware of rumors of another balloon “transiting Latin America,” Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told NBC News. Our current assessment is that it’s another Chinese spy balloon.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has intensified tensions with the United States over the past year by strengthening relationships with Russian President Vladimir Putin and escalating military aggressiveness against Taiwan.
Blinken had intended to see Xi in addition to his scheduled meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Minister of Foreign Affairs Qin Gang.
The balloon, according to China’s Foreign Ministry, was a civilian weather airship used for scientific investigation that was blown off course. It claimed that the incident was the consequence of “force majeure” that was beyond its control.
U.S. officials swiftly rejected this claim. On Thursday evening, a senior Pentagon official informed reporters that the object was unmistakably a surveillance balloon that was circling sensitive locations to gather intelligence.
“We have acknowledged the PRC statement of remorse, but the existence of this balloon in our airspace is a blatant violation of our sovereignty as well as international law, and it is intolerable that this has occurred,” the official said.
According to Defense officials, the balloon is not a threat to civil aviation because it is flying east at a height beyond 60,000 feet.
The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement late Friday that it was actively coordinating with the Pentagon “to facilitate any needed US government reaction” to the balloon.
“At this time, there is no danger to civil aviation from the balloon. The FAA is ready to take action if that changes, the agency added.
The balloon was reportedly over his home state of Kansas on Friday afternoon, according to Republican Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall.
Defense insiders claimed that earlier this week, the Pentagon considered shooting down the balloon but changed its mind after briefing President Joe Biden. Senior officials, including as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, were consulted before making the choice.
According to a Pentagon official, Biden came to the conclusion that the U.S. would refrain from shooting down the balloon due to the possibility of damage to the ground from its debris. In addition, any data gathered by the balloon would be of “little additional value” in comparison to China’s surveillance satellites.
As of now, the situation between China and the United States remains on the boiling point as the U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed his trip to Bejing.