Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has postponed a scheduled trip to China following the discovery of a People’s Republic of China spy balloon floating above Montana.
Blinken had been slated to meet with Chinese Communist Party Central Foreign Affairs Director Wang Yi, but instead communicated with his counterpart via phone on Friday.
“The Secretary explained that in light of this ongoing issue, it would not be appropriate to visit Beijing at this time,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement. “He underscored that the United States is committed to diplomatic engagement and maintaining open lines of communication and that he would be prepared to visit Beijing as soon as conditions allow.”
As previously reported by FISM, the Department of Defense announced Thursday that a large balloon, one DOD officials believe to be a Chinese spying device, had entered U.S. airspace.
While not a physical threat and equally unlikely to provide China with any new intelligence, the symbolic nature of a balloon entering sovereign airspace was met with harsh criticism in the United States.
China stated emphatically, and repeatedly, that the balloon was meant for the study of weather and had been blown over the U.S. by unexpected powerful winds.
“It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement. “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 US airspace due to force majeure,” the Chinese foreign ministry said.
The statement continues, “The Chinese side will continue communicating with the US side and properly handle this unexpected situation caused by force majeure.”
Force majeure is a term that carries both a legal and scientific meaning, and the Chinese government is relying on the latter, which defines the term as “irresistible compulsion.”
State Department officials stated they were not convinced by the weather balloon explanation – Blinken reiterated Friday he was confident this was a spy balloon – but the American foreign policy leaders said they were willing to accept China’s statement of regret.
“We have noted the PRC 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 it is unacceptable that this has occurred,” a senior State Department official said during a background call. “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.”
The senior official also stressed that the U.S. wished to continue to communicate with China even as Binken is delaying his trip.
“We believe in diplomacy to responsibly manage the most complex bilateral relationship we have,” the official said. “We are committed to maintaining open lines with the PRC, at all times, including during this incident.”
According to a report by CNN, the United States has detected a second large balloon, this time floating in Latin America and apparently meandering its way toward an unspecified location in the U.S.
The Pentagon reported the balloon’s existence Friday but did specify its size, height, or projected path.
“We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America. We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon,” CNN quoted Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder as saying.