Balloon incident ‘must never again occur’: Blinken tells China’s diplomat

19 February, 2023 | Pragati Singh

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with China's senior diplomat Wang Yi on Saturday and cautioned him not to repeat China's "irresponsible act" of deploying spy balloons.

According to The Washington Post, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with China’s senior diplomat Wang Yi on Saturday and cautioned him not to repeat China’s “irresponsible act” of deploying spy balloons into American airspace.

“The secretary made clear the United States will not stand for any violation of our sovereignty,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price, adding that Blinken had also cautioned China about the balloon intrusion, calling it a “irresponsible act” and warned that it “must never again occur.” 

“Just met with the PRC’s top diplomat, Wang Yi. I condemned the incursion of the PRC surveillance balloon and stressed it must never happen again. I warned China against providing material support to Russia. I also emphasized the importance of keeping open lines of communication.”

This statement was made on the sidelines of the annual Munich Security Conference, where the two top diplomats were meeting.

During the encounter, the two diplomats discussed a variety of problems, including Chinese surveillance and the country’s partnership with Moscow – concerns that have strained diplomatic relations between Beijing and Washington, according to The Washington Post.

Leaders from around the world have convened in Munich for the annual Munich Security Conference to address significant geopolitical issues such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s contentious relationship with the West.

Blinken also reiterated to Wang comments he had made publicly about Beijing’s alleged balloon surveillance program, saying it has “intruded into the air space of over 40 countries across 5 continents [and] has been exposed to the world,” Price said.

According to The Washington Post, China’s perspective is looming big at the normally Eurocentric conference, given the surprise announcement that Chinese President Xi Jinping plans to deliver a “peace speech” on the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Wang was more harsher in her assessment of the US response to the balloon incident, calling the Biden administration’s actions “absurd and hysterical.”

China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, accused the US of attempting to “smear” the Asian behemoth while implementing policies that contradicted its ideals, such as free trade. He claimed that Washington misidentified China as a serious geopolitical challenge and a threat to the US.

 “This is a misguided perception of China and with this perception, the United States is using all of its means to smear and clamp down on China and is co-opting other countries to do the same,” he said.

He claimed that the administration of US President Joe Biden has a “misguided” view of Beijing.

“There are many balloons from many countries in the sky. Do you want to down each and every one of them?” said Wang. He also urged the US “not to do such preposterous things simply to divert attention from its own domestic problems.”

Importantly, after hovering over the country for a week, the US fired down the enormous balloon, which China said was a civilian airship used for meteorological research. Blinken was scheduled to visit Beijing earlier this month, but cancelled his trip owing to the balloon intrusion.

Discussions over whether to have the meeting in Munich had lasted days, highlighting the strain in a relationship where meetings between top diplomats were formerly routine, according to officials familiar with the situation. They discussed intimate chats under the condition of anonymity.