US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has suspended a visit to China scheduled for Sunday after the Pentagon identified a Chinese balloon over US airspace. The Defense Ministry believes the device served spy functions, which Beijing denies and assures it was a mere weather balloon that was blown away by the wind and lost its way. Washington’s reaction suggests that the US government does not believe China’s statements to be credible.
Blinken’s indefinitely postponed visit was meant to be the first by a senior US official to Beijing since 2018 and should ease friction between the two powers, whose relations have grown increasingly strained as China booms. The suspension threatens to roll back a timid détente process that began in November when leaders of both countries, Joe Biden and Xi Jinping, met in Bali, Indonesia.
The Pentagon reported late Thursday that it had detected the weather balloon’s presence at high altitude as it flew over the country’s northwest. The demolition of the device was raised but eventually discarded due to the risk that the fragments would be presented to the population on the ground. Military commanders have stressed that the device lacks technology that would allow it to collect more intelligence data than China could obtain through other means, including its low-orbiting satellites.
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