Washington A suspected Chinese spy balloon over American territory has sparked a diplomatic crisis between China and the US. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will postpone his trip to Beijing, which was scheduled for Sunday and Monday. This was reported by the Bloomberg portal, the “New York Times” and the AP news agency, citing high-ranking US government officials. An official confirmation is still pending.
The abrupt decision shows how tense the relationship between the USA and China is. The Chinese Foreign Ministry apologized on Friday for the balloon that has been hovering over the US state of Montana for days. The object, which according to the Pentagon “is the size of three buses”, had put the US authorities on alert. 150 Minuteman III ICBMs equipped with nuclear warheads are stored in Montana.
The Pentagon described the balloon as a “surveillance balloon” early on and accused China of collecting security-related information. The United States has been warning of Chinese espionage efforts for some time.
However, the Chinese government emphasizes that the balloon is being used for “research purposes” and will mainly be used to collect meteorological data. The statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing said the “airship” had limited maneuverability and had “deviated far from its planned course” due to gusts of wind. China regrets the balloon’s “unintentional entry” into US airspace.
The US Department of Defense plans to release new information on Friday. The incident underscores how much US-China relations have deteriorated. The Pentagon explained that the balloon never posed any direct danger. Chinese surveillance satellites hovering in space over the US would have a far greater spying capacity. The balloon is also harmless to airplanes due to its high flight altitude.
Nevertheless, the balloon set off a chain reaction at the diplomatic and military levels. Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder said the US was mobilizing several F-22 fighter jets when the balloon was sighted on Wednesday. It had been discussed with US President Joe Biden to shoot down the balloon. Because of possible falling debris, the government decided against it.
CIA warns of Chinese invasion of Taiwan
Biden’s top diplomat Blinken was expected in Beijing this weekend for the first visit by a US Secretary of State since 2018. According to the New York Times, Blinken was also supposed to meet President Xi Jinping – that would have been a remarkable signal of rapprochement. Donald Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was not received by Xi in 2018. But now the understanding between the two world powers is being put to the test again, and a new date for the Blinken trip has not yet been announced.
At the beginning of his tenure, Biden vowed to maintain dialogue with Beijing. The US President wants to work pragmatically with China on climate policy or the North Korean conflict. But at the same time, Biden is focusing on differentiation, especially in the tech sector. He wants to exclude Chinese companies from critical future industries and decides to block one after the other.
In its national security strategy, the United States sees China as the “greatest geopolitical threat” and warns of Beijing’s nuclear buildup. For example, the US government fears a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, the self-governing island that China claims as its territory.
CIA director William Burns warned on Thursday not to underestimate the scenario of an escalation. Xi Jinping has instructed his military to be ready to invade the island’s democratic republic by 2027, Burns said. The US assumed that Xi would keep all options open and not rule out an invasion.
The balloon incident also highlights the approaching US presidential election campaign. Democrats and Republicans are expected to outplay each other with anti-China rhetoric. Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy called the balloon a “brazen disregard for US sovereignty.” McCarthy confirmed this week that he plans to travel to Taiwan with a congressional delegation. A visit by former spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi was condemned in Beijing as an affront.
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