United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken has postponed his visit to China after a suspected Chinese spy balloon was spotted over the US airspace, officials said on Friday.
Blinken was expected to meet with his Chinese counterpart, and potentially with President Xi Jinping.
He was initially scheduled to leave for Beijing Friday night.
The decision was taken a day after the Pentagon alleged a Chinese spy balloon said to be the size of ‘three buses’ was spotted over the US airspace.
The State Department described it as unacceptable and a clear violation of its sovereignty and in violation of international laws, a senior State Department official told reporters in Washington, DC.
“We have noted the PRC (People’s Republic of China) statement of regret, but the presence of this balloon in our airspace is a clear violation of our sovereignty, as well as international law,” a senior State Department official said.
“It is unacceptable that this has occurred. 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 and to travel to China,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“We believe in diplomacy to responsibly manage the most complex bilateral relationships we have. We are committed to maintaining open lines with China at all times, including during this incident. The secretary conveyed to the director of the Central Foreign Affairs Office longing earlier this morning, that the trip would need to be postponed,” said the official.
At the same time, the secretary indicated that he would travel to China at the earliest opportunity when conditions allow, said the official.
“In the meantime, we will maintain open lines of communication with China to address our concerns about this ongoing incident and to responsibly manage the competition between our countries,” the official noted.
Blinken was prepared to depart for Beijing tonight to take on a wide-ranging agenda that would have encompassed all related elements.
On Thursday, the Department of Defence released a statement that it has detected and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon over the continental United States.
The US government continues to track and monitor it closely.
“Once the balloon was detected, the US government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information. We’ve directly communicated with the PRC government through multiple levels about this issue,” said the official.
The Secretary and Deputy Secretary conveyed this message clearly and directly to the China’s senior Washington-based official.
That same message was delivered at senior levels in Beijing.
Senior Department officials also engaged close allies to inform them of the presence of the surveillance asset in American airspace, said the official.
Republican leader Nikki Haley, former US Ambassador to the United Nations, had demanded that Blinken cancel his trip.
‘Shoot down the balloon. Cancel Blinken’s trip. Hold China accountable. Biden is letting China walk all over us. It’s time to make America strong again,’ Haley demanded in a tweet.
The Indian American is scheduled to announce her presidential run on February 15.
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