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State Department Secretary Antony Blinken Postpones China Trip After Surveillance Balloon Observed Over Montana

'We have concluded that the conditions are not right at this moment for Secretary Blinken to travel to China,' said the State Department

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will not meet with Chinese officials in Bejing as previously scheduled following the increased debate over the surveillance balloon observed over Montana.

Blinken was expected to meet with Minister of Foreign Affairs Qin Gang and possibly President Xi Jinping. It would have marked the first time a member of President Joe Biden’s cabinet made a trip to China. 

“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,” said a spokesperson for the State Department at a press conference on Feb. 3, per CNBC.

The State Department did not give a specific date as to when Blinken would make the trip. Instead, the spokesperson said the department would wait to “determine when the conditions are right.”

The spokesperson also said that the United States and China have been in “regular and frequent contact” since the “incident occurred.”

China’s foreign affairs ministry confirmed on Feb. 3 that it owned the high-altitude balloon that entered American airspace. A spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said it was a civilian aircraft used “primarily for meteorological research,” per The Hill

“Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure.”

Pentagon spokesperson Brigader General Patrick Ryder challenged the Chinese government’s claim in a subsequent press conference on Feb. 3.

“We know that it’s a surveillance balloon and I am not going to be able to be more specific than that,” said Ryder. “We do know that the balloon has violated US airspace and international law, which is unacceptable, so we’ve conveyed this directly to the [People’s Republic of China] at multiple levels.”

Ryder said the balloon is 60,000 feet above the ground and therefore out of the range of civilian air traffic.

Ryder said the Pentagon was “considering the size of the payload on this, looking at the potential for debris and the impact in civilians on the ground or property damage … looking at it in terms of does it pose a potential risk to people while in the air” to determine if the surveillance balloon should be taken down by American forces. 

Blinken’s trip to China was notable during a time of increasing tension between the two nations.

“Xi’s decision to meet Blinken in Beijing has surprised U.S. diplomats given recent frosty engagement between the two countries has been governed by strict adherence to parity of officials’ numbers and rank, with COVID-19 travel restrictions rendering preparations for meetings especially testy,” reported Time Magazine on Feb. 3. “Still, given enduring tensions over trade, technology, human rights, military build ups and the status of Taiwan, among many other bugbears, few believe that anything substantial will emerge from the confab.”

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