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Biden admin to postpone Blinken’s China trip over spy balloon: Report

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)
February 03, 2023

President Joe Biden’s administration has decided to postpone Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to Beijing because of the suspected Chinese spy balloon currently drifting over the U.S., Bloomberg reported, citing two anonymous officials.

Originally planned for early next week, the trip would have made Blinken the first top U.S. diplomat to visit Beijing since 2018, and would have come amid high tensions between the two powers.

But after tracking the high-altitude Chinese balloon for days this week, officials fear that a high-level diplomatic visit now would send the wrong signal, according to anonymous people familiar with the matter.

The Pentagon revealed the balloon’s existence on Thursday, with a senior defense official saying it had lingered over Montana, home to silo fields for launching nuclear missiles. China on Friday confirmed the balloon was Chinese, but claimed it was a civilian aircraft for meteorological research that had gone astray.

In a statement Thursday, Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the balloon posed no danger to air traffic or people on the ground, adding that “this kind of balloon activity” has happened before in the past several years. 

After news of the balloon emerged, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning urged “both sides [to] handle the matter together in a cool-headed and prudent manner,” adding, “We have no intention to violate the territory or airspace of any sovereign country.”

As the balloon drifted into the area of Billings, Montana on Wednesday, flights were stopped for about two hours at the Billings Logan International Airport, local news outlet KULR reported. A senior defense official said F-22 fighter jets were scrambled, but President Joe Biden heeded the “strong recommendation” of senior military leaders that it was too risky to shoot the balloon down, CNN reported.

This was a breaking news story. The details were periodically updated as more information became available.