Blinken postpones China trip over alleged spy balloon

Washington, Feb 3 (EFE).- Secretary of State Antony Blinken has postponed a planned visit to China following the detection of a Chinese airship over the United States, the State Department said Friday.

“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,” a senior official told reporters on background.

Regarding when the trip might take place, the official said that the State Department would “determine when the conditions are right.”

Blinken was due to depart for Beijing late Friday and word of the postponement followed a statement from China identifying the balloon detected this week over the US as a civilian airship conducting meteorological research that had blown off course.

Beijing had earlier urged calm and warned against speculation after the US and Canada said they were tracking the high altitude object.

“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 the US airspace due to force majeure,” a foreign ministry spokesperson said.

While acknowledging the Chinese explanation, the State Department official emphasized the gravity of the violation of US airspace.

“We have noted the PRC (People’s Republic of China) statement of regret, but the presence of this balloon in our airspace is a clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law and is unacceptable that this has occurred,” the official said.

The official said that Blinken contacted Chinese counterpart Wang Yi earlier Friday to inform him about the change in plans.

Blinken assured Wang that he will travel to China as soon as conditions allow, the official said.

His visit – the first by a US secretary of state to China since 2018 – was to include talks with Wang and a possible meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The State Department official said that communication channels between the US and China remain open.

“From the moment this incident occurred, we have been in regular and frequent contact with our Chinese counterparts and I do anticipate that will continue,” the official said.

Late Thursday, Pentagon Press Secretary Pat Ryder said in a statement that “the United States government has detected and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now” and that senior officials had decided against shooting it down.

The balloon was flying at an altitude well above commercial air traffic, Ryder said, and does not pose a threat to civil aviation.

When the object was detected, the US government “acted immediately” to protect itself against the collection of sensitive information by China, he said.

President Joe Biden was informed about the matter and he accepted the recommendation of senior defense officials against shooting the object down due to risk to people on the ground and the relatively low risk to security it poses.

Canada was also actively tracking the balloon and “taking steps to ensure the security of its airspace,” the Canadian Department of National Defense said Thursday.

On Friday, the Canadian foreign ministry summoned the Chinese ambassador to demand an explanation for the presence of the balloon in North American airspace. EFE ssa-jco-rml-tw-jot-dr

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