US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has postponed a visit to China that was to have started Friday after a Chinese spy balloon was tracked flying across the United States in what Washington called a “clear violation” of US sovereignty.
The Pentagon said on Thursday it was tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon over the continental United States. Officials said military leaders considered shooting it down over Montana on Wednesday but eventually recommended against this to President Joe Biden because of the safety risk from debris.
The Pentagon’s disclosure about the balloon’s maneuverability directly challenges China’s assertion that the balloon was merely a “civilian” airship that had strayed into U.S. territory after being blown off course.
The postponement of Blinken’s trip, which had been agreed to in November by Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, is a blow to those on both sides who saw it as an overdue opportunity to stabilize an increasingly fractious relationship. The last visit by a U.S. secretary of state was in 2017.
China is keen for a stable U.S. relationship so it can focus on its economy, battered by the now-abandoned zero-COVID policy and neglected by foreign investors alarmed by what they see as a return of state intervention in the market.
In recent months Chinese leader Xi has met with world leaders, seeking to re-establish ties and settle disagreements.
China has often complained about surveillance by the United States, including its deployment of ships or planes near Chinese military exercises.