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US, Chinese military communication is closed, says White House

China's President Xi Jinping. (Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS/Abaca Press/TNS)
February 17, 2023

Contact between the U.S. and Chinese militaries has come to a stop after the Chinese spy balloon that flew over the U.S. was shot down earlier this month.

The White House said all communication between the two militaries has “unfortunately” shut down, even as diplomatic communications remain open, Reuters reported.

“Unfortunately, the military lines aren’t open, and that’s really what we would like to see amended,” said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.

Kirby said Secretary of State Antony Blinken “still has an open line of communication with the foreign minister,” though his planned Beijing visit was postponed amid the spy balloon episode.

The spy balloon spent nearly a week crossing over much of the U.S., including near nuclear missile sites, before it was shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4. China has claimed it was a civilian weather research balloon, but U.S. officials have described it as part of a broader military surveillance program that has targeted more than 40 countries.

The balloon’s voyage ignited an interest in airborne objects that soon saw three unidentified objects shot out of North American skies in as many days. During an address about the incidents on Thursday, Biden said there were no indications that the objects and spy balloon were related.

Biden also said during the address that he expects “to be speaking with [Chinese President Xi Jinping],” adding: “We are not looking for a new cold war,” Reuters reported.

Kirby said the U.S. has not yet formally requested to talk with Xi, adding: “That doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen.”

China previously cut some key military-to-military communications channels in August, Reuters reported, shortly after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the island of Taiwan, which China claims as its own.

Blinken condemned China’s move at the time, saying the channels are “vital for avoiding miscommunication” and crises.

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