The Hamilton Spectator

Balloon issue bursts hopes for an end to spiralling tensions

Alleged surveillan­ce device has led to diplomatic setback

- MATTHEW LEE

Monday was supposed to be a day of modest hope in the U.S.-China relationsh­ip. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was going to be in Beijing, meeting with President Xi Jinping in a highstakes bid to ease ever-rising tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

Instead, Blinken was spending the day in Washington after abruptly cancelling his visit late last week as the U.S. and China exchanged angry words about a suspected Chinese spy balloon the U.S. shot down. As fraught as the US-China relationsh­ip had been ahead of Blinken’s planned trip, it’s even worse now and there’s little hope for it improving any time soon.

Even as both sides maintain they will manage the situation calmly, the mutual recriminat­ions, particular­ly since the shootdown of the balloon on Saturday that drew a stern Chinese protest, do not bode well for rapprochem­ent.

The setback comes at a time when both sides were looking for a way to potentiall­y extricate themselves from a low point in ties that has had the world on edge.

White House National Security Spokesman John Kirby noted Monday that Blinken’s trip was delayed, not cancelled. But prospects for rescheduli­ng remain uncertain.

“I would put this at a six” on a scale of 10, said Danny Russel, a China expert and former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs in the Obama administra­tion, on the damage to current diplomatic efforts between the two

‘‘ The signals I see suggest that there has to be a pause and a line drawn under the incident but once the drama has gone through its final act, there seems to be every intention to re-engineer a trip by the secretary of state.

DANNY RUSSEL ASIA SOCIETY POLICY INSTITUTE

countries.

“The signals I see suggest that there has to be a pause and a line drawn under the incident but once the drama has gone through its final act, there seems to be every intention to re-engineer a trip by the secretary of state,” said Russel, who is now vice-president for internatio­nal security and diplomacy at the Asia Society Policy Institute.

The administra­tion will be “starting at a serious deficit,” Russel said. “This is a setback but it’s not impossible to see a return. Absent mismanagem­ent, this is recoverabl­e.”

Blinken and senior Chinese officials do plan to attend at least two internatio­nal gatherings — the Munich Security Conference this month and a meeting of the Group of 20 foreign ministers in India in March — that could provide venues for renewed engagement.

But the lost opportunit­y caused by the balloon incident may be difficult to recreate.

It’s not that the U.S. and China don’t talk. It’s that they talk from extremely divergent points of view with very little leeway for either to step back from entrenched positions that are often directly related to political conditions at home.

Military-to-military channels are used, but they have been hindered by increasing Chinese incursions into Taiwanese air defence zones and aggressive actions in the South China Sea. The result is the U.S. has stepped up reconnaiss­ance flights and warship voyages through the Taiwan Strait.

Diplomatic channels remain open, but for several years they have been dominated by disagreeme­nts.

 ?? U.S. NAVY VIA THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? U.S. navy sailors recover the remnants of an alleged Chinese surveillan­ce balloon that was shot down off South Carolina.
U.S. NAVY VIA THE ASSOCIATED PRESS U.S. navy sailors recover the remnants of an alleged Chinese surveillan­ce balloon that was shot down off South Carolina.

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