US Secretary of State Antony Blinken who was scheduled to visit China on Friday has postponed his visit. The decision came after a suspected Chinese spy balloon was detected and being tracked flying across the United States in a “clear violation” of US sovereignty.
White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre stated that Biden was guided on Tuesday regarding the balloon flight over the United States and there was an administration “consensus that it was not appropriate to travel to the People’s Republic of China at this time.”
Fighter planes were prepared, but military officials recommended President Joe Biden not to fire at the balloon out of the sky as flying debris could be a possible danger. Biden accepted the recommendation, said US officials.
Jean-Pierre said “the presence of this balloon in our airspace, it is a clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law. It is unacceptable that this occurred.”
According to an earlier statement by Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, “The United States government has detected and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now. The balloon is currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.”
Another balloon over Latin America
Before flying over the city of Billings in Montana on Wednesday, the object went across Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and through Canada, according to US officials.
Without providing further information, Canada’s defense ministry said it had identified a “high-altitude surveillance balloon” and was being careful in case of “potential second incident.” It also claimed it was in constant contact with the US.
According to the Pentagon the authorities observed another Chinese balloon over Latin America. However, the Pentagon did not mention the exact location.
Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said, “We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America. We now assess it as another Chinese surveillance balloon.”
He also said on Friday that the balloon first seen over the US had altered its route and was flying eastward at about 60,000 feet (18,300 meters) above the central United States and showing skills to move further. According to him, the balloon would possibly continue to fly over the US for a few more days.
Commercial weather forecaster AccuWeather predicted that the balloon would most probably leave the United States and move across the Atlantic on Saturday evening. Mike Rounds, a Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told the American news channel Fox News that it would be beneficial to recover the balloon “one way or another” to see “if it was designed to actually collect data or if it was designed to test our response capabilities.”
Blinken stated at a news conference that he had informed Wang Yi, director of China’s Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, that the incident on the eve of his trip was an “irresponsible act” by China, but that Washington remained committed to engagement and that he would visit when circumstances permitted.
He further said, “The first step is … getting the surveillance assets out of our air space,” adding that the US would be open to communication with China.
On Saturday, the Chinese foreign ministry claimed that the passage of a Chinese “airship” over the United States was the result of an unforeseeable circumstance and accused American politicians and media of exploiting the circumstance to malign China.
The foreign ministry said, “China has always strictly abided by international law and respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries.”
It further denied the announcement of Blinken’s visit by China and the United States and said “the US announcements are their own matter and we respect that”.
Wang Yi spoke with Blinken over the phone on Friday evening, according to a separate statement from the ministry, and they discussed how to handle unavoidable crises in a cool and professional way.
Beijing was “verifying” the situation, according to Mao Ning, a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry.
At a regular daily briefing in Beijing on Friday, she said, “I would like to emphasize that until the facts are clarified, speculation and hype will not be helpful to the proper resolution of the issue.” She added that China follows international law.
Mao said, “China has no intention of violating the land territory and airspace of any sovereign country.”
Possible risk to safety
An official told reporters that the US military officials thought of shooting down the balloon over US’ western state of Montana on Wednesday but ultimately counseled Biden against it due to the danger posed by falling debris.
The military prepared assets, such as F-22 fighter jets, in case Biden ordered the balloon to be shot down by issuing a ground stop at the city of Billings, Montana airport.
“We wanted to make sure we were coordinating with civil authorities to empty out the airspace around that potential area,” the official said.
“But even with those protective measures taken, it was the judgment of our military commanders that we didn’t drive the risk down low enough. So we didn’t take the shot.”