U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed his trip to Beijing after a Chinese balloon was discovered hovering in American airspace.
Blinken said Friday that he told China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, in a phone call that the presence of the surveillance balloon in U.S. airspace was a “clear violation of U.S. sovereignty and international law,” and he called it “an irresponsible act.”
Speaking at a news conference alongside visiting South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin, Blinken said China’s “decision to take this action on the eve of my planned visit is detrimental to the substantive discussions that we were prepared to have.”
Blinken, however, said the United States remained committed to engagement with China and added he would visit Beijing when conditions allowed.
Earlier Friday, a senior State Department official said the United States had concluded that “the conditions are not right at this moment for Secretary Blinken to travel to China.” The official said the decision was made after interagency consultations within the U.S. administration and with Congress.
Blinken was expected to depart Washington for Beijing on Friday for meetings with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and other top officials. Officials did not say when they expected it to be rescheduled.
“In the meantime, we will maintain open lines of communication with the PRC to address our concerns about this ongoing incident and to responsibly manage the competition between our countries,” said the senior State Department official.
China acknowledged Friday that the balloon U.S. officials tracked — from Alaska down to Montana — in recent days was theirs, although they said it was a weather balloon that had inadvertently strayed off course.
The U.S. Defense Department has described it as an “intelligence-gathering balloon.” The Pentagon is monitoring the balloon, which is traveling high above commercial air traffic routes. Officials said it did not pose a military or physical threat to people on the ground.
Wednesday evening, Blinken and his deputy, Wendy Sherman, conveyed the U.S. concerns “clearly and directly” to PRC’s senior official based in Washington.
This was the first time such an incident had happened on the eve of a planned visit to China by the top U.S. diplomat. Another senior State Department official said the U.S. had hoped for a “constructive engagement” amid a broad, substantive agenda with the PRC, but this latest event “would have narrowed” the agenda in a way that it would have been “unhelpful and unconstructive.”