WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken on Friday canceled a weekend trip to Beijing after a Chinese high-altitude balloon, described as an “intelligence-gathering” Airship from the Pentagon and a stray civil device from China were detected floating above the United States this Week.
The cancellation came after a diplomatic row over the balloon had been going on since Wednesday. It also adds to tensions between the superpowers. It also highlighted the delicate politics in America as both Republican and Democratic leaders try to appear sufficiently hawkish towards China.
The trip would be the first U.S. Secretary of State to China since 2018, and Mr. Blinken was scheduled to leave Friday night. He was expected to meet President Xi Jinping, and discuss a variety of issues. But Mr. Blinken said he called Wang Yi, China’s top foreign policy official, on Friday and said he was postponing his trip because of the balloon.
“I made clear that the presence of the surveillance balloon in U.S. airspace is a clear violation of U.S. sovereignty and international law, that it’s an irresponsible act and that the P.R.C. decision to take this action on the eve of my planned visit is detrimental to the substantive discussions that we were prepared to have,” Mr. Blinken said at a news conference on Friday afternoon, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
“The first step is getting the surveillance asset out of our airspace,” He added.
Some Republican lawmakers lambasted President Biden Thursday for allowing the balloon drift for days above the United States and failing to take harsher action against China. White House officials claimed that similar balloons have been seen before over U.S. territory, including during Trump’s administration.
On Thursday, the balloon was seen above Montana. By Friday midday, it had reached Kansas. Officials from Pentagon said that it was hovering at times and moving at speeds up to 70 miles per hour. The United States had its own surveillance systems to monitor and analyze the machine, including the deployment of aircraft.
According to a Pentagon official, Mr. Biden might still decide that he would shoot it down. But he will not do so until it is above water. Given its southeasterly heading, it will probably be over the Atlantic Ocean.
“Right now, we assess that there is no threat, no physical threat or military threat, to people on the ground,” Brig. According to Gen. Pat Ryder (a Pentagon spokesperson), the incident occurred Friday.
On Wednesday night, Wendy Sherman, the deputy secretary, spoke to the Chinese Embassy about the balloon. American diplomats in Beijing also spoke with Chinese officials, State Department officials stated. Because of the sensitive nature of the balloon, they and Pentagon officials spoke under the condition that anonymity be maintained.
Mr. Blinken stated Friday that he had told Mr. Wang that he would be visiting China. “when conditions allow.”
According to Pentagon officials, while other surveillance balloons have been seen hovering over the United States in recent decades, this one has remained longer than any of them.
Learn More About the Relationships Between China and the U.S.
Both countries are jockeying for global influence, attempting to gain advantages in the economy as well as in cyberspace.
China’s government expressed regret and said that the balloon was being used for civilian research. “deviated far from its planned course.” The statement appeared to be an effort to keep Mr. Blinken’s visit on track.
Chinese officials had been anticipating the visit as an important moment to mark China’s reopening to the world after Mr. Xi decided in December to end his “zero Covid” This policy had sparked protests and worsened the economic slowdown. The trip was planned after Mr. Xi met Mr. Biden at the Bali Group of 20 Summit in November.
Both Trump’s and Biden’s administrations have taken a defensive stance against China. The Chinese Communist Party claims that they are determined to destroy the U.S.-led international order. Mr. Biden has greatly expanded efforts to hobble China’s technological advancements. He has also worked with Asian allies, including Taiwan, which China claims to be an independent island, in order to support military forces in the case of an armed conflict.
On Thursday, Lloyd J. Austin III, the Defense Secretary, stated in Manila that the U.S. military would use nine Philippine bases to temporarily house troops and equipment. This move was made in deterring China’s attempts to invade Taiwan or further militarize the South China Sea.
Officials from the Biden administration are sensitive to suggestions that they don’t take a tough line against China. On Friday, Mr. Blinken said that the reason he cancelled the trip was because of national security concerns.
Following the news of the balloon’s discovery on Thursday, Republican officials set out a variety of demands to Mr. Blinken.
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The official Twitter account of Republican lawmakers in the House Foreign Affairs Committee was updated with a post by Representative Michael McCaul (Republican from Texas). It stated that it was “imperative” Tell Mr. Xi that Mr. Blinken is with him. “their military adventurism will no longer be tolerated.” Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton wrote online that Mr. Blinken needed to cancel his trip.
On Tuesday, Mr. Biden will deliver his annual State of the Union speech to Congress.
Jessica Chen Weiss, a political scientist at Cornell University who recently worked in the State Department on China policy, said the decision to cancel Mr. Blinken’s trip “reflects the unfortunate triumph of symbolism over substance.”
“It also confirms the low expectations going into the trip, that the potential upside should have been so outweighed by the domestic political risks of visiting Beijing amid congressional outrage,” She said.
Daniel Russel is a former assistant secretary for East Asia and Pacific and vice president at Asia Society Policy Institute. “the administration clearly was dissatisfied with the Chinese government’s public expression of regret — perhaps because Beijing insisted on hiding behind the laughable alibi that this was a weather balloon blown off course.”
“This incident has soured the atmosphere and hardened positions, and there’s no guarantee the two sides can successfully resurrect the Bali momentum,” He added.
Pentagon officials were given the explanation by the Chinese Foreign Ministry Thursday They discovered a balloon. “most certainly launched by the People’s Republic of China,” Over Montana Is home To about 150 intercontinental missile silos.
After initially telling reporters it had to check on the claims about the balloon, the ministry said late Friday in Beijing that the balloon’s course was an accident.
“The airship is from China. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes,” An unidentified spokesperson of the ministry Statement Visit its website. “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 U.S. airspace due to force majeure.”
“Force majeure” refers to a violation caused by forces beyond a party’s control.
According to the ministry, it will talk with U.S. officials regarding how to proceed. “properly handle this unexpected situation.”
“It’s a plausible explanation, but it’s preposterous that they didn’t guess it would end up in North America,” said Lynn McMurdie, a professor in atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, who had modeled the balloon’s flight path.
“With the weather pattern right now, we have quite a strong jet across the Pacific, and something that originates in China would end up in Montana,” She continued. “Why wouldn’t they know that it would end up here?”
Ross Hays, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility, who had also carried out his own analysis, said it was very probable, based on current weather patterns, that a balloon from China would end up over Montana.
Canada announced Thursday that it had detected the balloon as well and was following its movements. “potential second incident.”
The Pentagon has withheld many details about the balloon including its dimensions and features. This makes it difficult for outside experts to evaluate its value and intent. “We did assess that it was large enough to cause damage from the debris field if we downed it over an area,” A senior Pentagon official spoke to reporters.
U.S. officials claim that Chinese spy balloons have in the past crossed into American airspace and were classified as unidentified aerial phenomena. This is the same category used by the Pentagon for U.F.O.s.
According to another U.S. official, intelligence agencies started tracking the balloon around three days ago after it left China. It began its controlled descent toward Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. According to the official, American trackers kept an eye on the balloon’s progress through Canada towards the continent United States and were shocked when it crossed into American airspace.
Officials believe that the solar panels power the balloon’s propulsion. The balloon can hover at around 60,000 feet and move occasionally. It also has cameras and other surveillance equipment.
General Ryder described the balloon as “the balloon”. “maneuverable,” However, he declined to say explicitly that China was still operating this balloon.
“We assess that it will probably be over the United States for a few days,” He said.
The once-humble balloon is one of many technologies that China’s military forces have seized on as a potential tool in their competition with the United States and other powers.
In studies and newspaper articles, People’s Liberation Army experts have tracked efforts by the United States, France and other countries to use advanced high-altitude balloons for intelligence collection and for coordinating battlefield operations. They claim that balloons are more durable, maneuverable, and can be used in a variety of ways thanks to new technologies.
“Technological advances have opened a new door for the use of balloons,” one article in the Liberation Army Daily — the main newspaper of China’s military — It was last year. Another Article in the same newspaper It was also noted that airships could be built in the upper atmosphere. “a thousand eyes” Assisting in the monitoring of outer space.
Michael Crowley Washington contributed reporting Euan Ward From London and Amy Chang Chien Taipei.