US President Joe Biden on February 3 postponed Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s first official visit to China in response to the Pentagon’s discovery of an alleged Chinese spy balloon flying over the United States, a US official said, The Washington Post reported.
The decision by the US President came hours before Blinken was scheduled to depart for Beijing. A postponement in the visit indicates how seriously the Biden administration takes the incident.
The US Department of Defence in a release issued on February 2 said the United States Government is monitoring a Chinese surveillance balloon that has been spotted moving over commercial air traffic over the past several days.
“It is not the first time that you had a balloon of this nature cross over the continental United States. It has happened a handful of other times over the past few years, including before this administration,” a senior US defense official said.
He said with ‘high confidence’ that the defense department believes that the balloon is of the People’s Republic of China, “So we do not doubt that this is a PRC balloon. And that is an assessment shared across our intelligence and analytic community. Why not shoot it down? We have to do the risk-reward here. So the first question is does it pose a threat — a physical kinetic threat to individuals in the United States or the US Homeland. Our assessment is it does not,” the defence official stated.
The defense official said the balloon was recently over Montana and that officials were considering bringing the plane down with military assets, but decided against doing so because of the risks associated, adding that President Biden was briefed on the situation and asked for military options, as per the statement.
Canada’s Department of National Defence on Thursday (local time) said that it is working with the US to track a high-altitude suspected Chinese surveillance balloon, and it is monitoring a “potential second incident”.
“A high-altitude surveillance balloon was detected and its movements are being actively tracked by North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Canadians are safe and Canada is taking steps to ensure the security of its airspace, including the monitoring of a potential second incident,” stated the Department of National Defence press release.
Whereas China’s Foreign Ministry in a statement on February 3 on the unintended entry of a Chinese unmanned airship into US Airspace, said: “The airship is from China. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes. Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course.”
The Ministry said the Chinese side “regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace”. The Chinese side will continue to communicate with the US side and address this unexpected circumstance, the Foreign Ministry’s statement said.