Secretary of State Antony Blinken has postponed his planned trip to Beijing after a Chinese surveillance balloon was spotted over the mainland of the United States.
Blinken canceled the trip for early next week even though China has taken “unusual conciliatory steps” to smooth over U.S.-China relations amid the discovery of the spy balloon, sources told Bloomberg News.
The cancellation came after an alleged spy balloon was spotted over Montana, and the visirt would send the wrong signals, sources told Bloomberg News.
Earlier Friday, retired Brig. Gen. Blaine Holt made a firm call for the trip to be put off, saying the discovery of a foreign spy aircraft over the U.S. mainland “has never happened” before.
“It should be a ‘nonvisit’; it should be a ‘We’re not coming; we’re not going to talk to you,’ ” Holt told Friday’s “Wake Up America” on Newsmax. “This is not what nations who are trying to engage diplomatically do. So, we’ll take care of your balloons first, and then we’ll start to reevaluate what the Chinese relationship is.
“We keep living in this dream of the Chinese relationship we would love to see — not the one that we have. Because the Chinese are extremely clear about what their attitudes and intentions are with us.”
Blinken, though, did not want to cancel the visit, an official told ABC News.
But Blinken did not want talk of the spy balloon’s discovery to dominate the narrative during the meetings with Chinese officials, ABC News reported.
After initially hesitating to admit the balloon was Chinese, Beijing later confirmed that it was the source of the balloon. It expressed regret for an “unintentional” breach of U.S. airspace by what it said was a civilian airship that veered off course because of winds.
“The airship is from China; it is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes,” said the statement attributed to a foreign ministry spokesperson.
“The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into U.S. airspace due to force majeure,” the statement read, using the legal term for an act outside of human control.
“The Chinese side will continue communicating with the U.S. side and properly handle this unexpected situation.”
But the Pentagon called it a spy balloon.
The Pentagon said Thursday it was tracking the balloon as it flew far above the western state of Montana and decided for safety reasons not to shoot it down.
Lawmakers from the Republican Party quickly pounced on the incident, casting President Joe Biden — who has largely preserved and at times expanded his Republican predecessor Donald Trump’s hawkish policies on China — as weak.
“Secretary Blinken should cancel his trip to China,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., tweeted.
Cotton also tweeted Friday, “President Biden should stop coddling and appeasing the Chinese communists. Bring the balloon down now and exploit its tech package, which could be an intelligence bonanza.”
A senior defense official said that Biden had asked for military options but that the Pentagon believed shooting the object down would put people on the ground at risk from debris.
The balloon has “limited additive value from an intelligence collection perspective,” the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
But the official said it was clearly a balloon meant for surveillance.
The northwestern United States is home to sensitive airbases and nuclear weapons in underground silos.
The Pentagon said fighter jets were flown to examine the balloon. Canada also said it had tracked the balloon.