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China’s suspected spy balloon prompts Blinken to postpone Beijing journey as Congress seeks solutions

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a gathering with China’s International Minister Wang Yi in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, July 9, 2022.

Stefani Reynolds | AP

WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has indefinitely postponed an already tense journey to China subsequent week after officers mentioned they noticed a “sizable” Chinese language reconnaissance balloon looming over components of Montana that posed a risk to nationwide safety.

Blinken was slated to depart for Beijing on Friday night time for a visit that State Division officers mentioned was meant to reestablish traces of communication and cooperation. Prior to now yr, Chinese language President Xi Jinping has cast nearer alliances with Russian President Vladimir Putin and ratcheted up army aggression towards Taiwan.

Blinken was scheduled to fulfill together with his Chinese language counterpart, Minister of International Affairs Qin Gang, and hoped to see Xi, as nicely. A State Division official informed reporters Friday that “the situations are usually not proper at this second” for Blinken’s journey.

China’s International Ministry mentioned Friday that the balloon was a civilian climate airship meant for scientific analysis that was blown off track. It described the incident because of a “pressure majeure” for which it was not accountable.

This declare was summarily dismissed by U.S. officers. A senior Pentagon official informed reporters Thursday night time that the article was clearly a surveillance balloon that was flying over delicate websites to gather intelligence.

“Now we have famous the PRC assertion of remorse, however the presence of this balloon in our airspace is a transparent violation of our sovereignty in addition to worldwide regulation and is unacceptable that this has occurred,” the official mentioned.

The balloon is shifting east at an altitude above 60,000 toes so it isn’t a risk to civil plane, Pentagon officers mentioned.

On Friday afternoon, Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall, a Republican, reported that the balloon was flying over his house state.

Protection officers mentioned the Pentagon thought of capturing down the balloon earlier this week, however determined towards it after briefing President Joe Biden. The choice was made in session with senior leaders, together with Joint Chiefs of Workers Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and Protection Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Biden concluded that the U.S. wouldn’t shoot down the balloon as a result of particles from it might trigger injury on the bottom, Pentagon official mentioned. Furthermore, any data the balloon collects would have “restricted additive worth” in contrast with China’s spy satellites.

“At this stage we’re monitoring it and reviewing choices,” Pentagon spokesman U.S. Air Drive Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder informed reporters, including officers anticipate the balloon will linger in U.S. airspace for a couple of days.

Beijing’s obvious provocation so near Blinken’s go to set off alarms on Capitol Hill.

“It is not coincidental that that is taking place proper earlier than Blinken was supposed to go to Beijing,” mentioned Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the highest Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“They do these kinds of issues to humiliate the opposite aspect, venture power and ship a message. I do not suppose this was coincidental. I believe it was actually tied to that,” Rubio mentioned Friday on radio discuss present “The Mike Gallagher Present.”

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who represents the state the place the balloon was flying overhead Thursday, mentioned in a press release that he was involved with Protection Division and intelligence officers over the matter. One of many nation’s three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Drive Base is situated within the state. However as of Friday morning, Tester mentioned he was nonetheless “ready for actual solutions on how this occurred and what steps the administration took to guard our nation, and I’ll maintain everybody accountable till I get them.”

Whereas Blinken has postponed his journey, the U.S. and China haven’t suspended communication over the incident.

“From the second this incident occurred, now we have been in common and frequent contact with our Chinese language counterparts and I do anticipate that may proceed,” mentioned the State Division official, who requested to not be recognized to debate a delicate intelligence matter.

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The incident got here at a second of excessive pressure between the US and China. Beijing’s territorial growth within the South China Sea and its aggressive effort to regulate Taiwan have lengthy involved U.S. officers, however just lately their worries have grown extra pressing.

On Thursday, Austin was within the Philippine capital of Manilla, the place the 2 international locations introduced the Philippines would grant the US expanded entry to its army bases. The island nation is strategically situated within the southeast nook of the South China Sea, roughly 750 miles from Taiwan.

Austin mentioned increasing entry for U.S. troops “was particularly essential because the Individuals’s Republic of China continues to advance its illegitimate claims within the West Philippine Sea,” utilizing the phrase designated by the Philippines to confer with components of the South China Sea.

Home Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has requested a briefing for the so-called Gang of Eight, the Republican and Democratic leaders of each the Home and Senate, and the leaders from each events of the Senate and Home Intelligence committees. 

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