An “absurd and almost hysterical” reaction: the head of Chinese diplomacy, Wang Yi, raised the tone of the dispute over the launch of the spy balloon in the skies over the United States. Xi Jinping’s envoy to the Munich Security Conference repeated Beijing’s version: “It was an unmanned civilian airship that was hijacked by westerly winds over American airspace.” The Pentagon, on the other hand, has no doubts: it got the wreckage from the shallow waters off the coast recovered by South Carolina, explaining that the equipment on board was used for espionage.
According to Wang Yi, shooting down the plane was “a gesture of weakness, not strength” by the White House. A nod to America’s domestic political debate, the US press has widely reported that President Joe Biden hesitated for days before giving the order to open fire, and was presumably pushed by the Republican opposition, which called for the hardest line with the Chinese.
The Pentagon twists the accusation by saying that the spy operation, conducted on the eve of Secretary Antony Blinken’s planned trip to Beijing, has exposed a risky disconnect between politics and military operations in Beijing: “We believe that Xi is only known by his generals after we spotted their balloon,” Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl told the New York Times. The statement can also be read as a signal to facilitate the resumption of diplomatic contacts.
The foreign representative of the Chinese Politburo has arrived in Munich after stops in Paris and Rome. Its mission is primarily aimed at not losing economic relations with the European Union, which has a trade value of around 700 billion euros per year (the first partner by far is Germany).
To show Beijing’s goodwill, Wang announced in Rome Minister Antonio Tajani an upcoming “peace speech” that Xi Jinping would deliver until February 24, the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Beijing does not call it an invasion and has never condemned it. Xi has also never reneged on the promise of “borderless cooperation” made to Vladimir Putin on February 4, 2022, when Russian tanks were already massed on the Ukrainian border (US intelligence has revealed that it sent the information to the Chinese embassy passed on in Washington in the hope that Xi would dissuade his friend Putin to the utmost; Beijing denied the secret contact).
Yesterday, Wang said China is preparing a proposal for a peaceful political solution. Dialogue is necessary, he reiterated: “We must adhere to the principles of territorial integrity and sovereignty…we oppose any attack on civilian nuclear sites.” They are not new words. And the Beijing envoy also reiterated that “the legitimate security concerns of all parties must be ensured”: and the party he is referring to is always Russia. Wang turned to the Europeans: “Take your time and think about how the crisis can be solved, because there are some forces who want neither a successful negotiation nor an early end to the war”. We’ll have to wait until the 24th to find out if Xi really wants to get involved. “Beijing’s position remains very ambiguous,” noted EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis. “They continue to look for ways to circumvent sanctions against Russia.”
In Munich, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba praised a long-awaited Chinese peace initiative: “We believe it can play an important role, we want China to have it.” Wang Yi will continue his tour in Moscow.