The Daily Telegraph

US postpones China visit as spy balloon lurks over nuclear site

- By Josie Ensor and Nick Allen in Washington

‘Its presence in our airspace is a clear violation of our sovereignt­y as well as internatio­nal law’

THE Biden administra­tion last night postponed an official visit to China after a spy balloon was detected flying over the US, despite Beijing’s attempt to insist it was merely a weather monitoring device.

Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, had been due to head to China over the weekend but apparently did not want the satellite to dominate the first such high-level meetings between the two countries in six years.

“Under these conditions, it would not be constructi­ve to travel at this time,” a senior State Department official told reporters. “This is the first time this has happened on the eve of a planned Secretary of State visit to the PRC [People’s Republic of China]. This issue would have significan­tly narrowed the agenda of what we were able to discuss.”

The balloon was spotted at 60,000ft over America’s biggest nuclear missile site in Montana. A senior defence official told reporters late on Thursday: “Clearly the intent of this balloon is for surveillan­ce.”

The Chinese government has denied the balloon was a spy device and instead claimed it was for civilian meteorolog­ical and other scientific purposes and had been accidental­ly blown off course.

Beijing apologised for the incident, saying it “regretted” that the balloon – reported to be about the size of three buses – had ended up there.

“We acknowledg­e China’s statement of regret,” the State Department official responded. “We also remain confident in our assessment of the situation. The presence of this balloon in our airspace is a clear violation of our sovereignt­y as well as internatio­nal law, and it is unacceptab­le this has occurred.”

After floating eastward towards the centre of the continenta­l US, the balloon was last night seen to have changed course, suggesting someone in China was controllin­g it and it had not simply blown off course as Beijing claimed.

“We know this is a Chinese [surveillan­ce] balloon and that it has the ability to manoeuvre,” Air Force Brigadier General Patrick Ryder told a news briefing at the Pentagon. He declined to say precisely how it was powered or who in China was controllin­g its flight path.

The Pentagon decided not to shoot down the balloon – despite having F-22 stealth fighters at the ready – amid concerns of casualties on the ground.

President Joe Biden faced mounting criticism for the decision. Former President Donald Trump posted on his Truth Social platform: “SHOOT DOWN THE BALLOON!”

Mark Esper, a defence secretary under Mr Trump, denounced what he called a “brazen act by the Chinese”.

Mr Esper said: “My interest would be … bringing it down so that we can capture the equipment and understand exactly what they’re doing.”

Nikki Haley, the Republican former South Carolina Governor who is expected to announce her 2024 presidenti­al bid later this month, also called for aggressive action from the Biden administra­tion. “Biden is letting China walk all over us,” she tweeted.

Republican lawmakers in the newly Gop-controlled House have promised a tougher stance on China.

Drew Thompson, a former Pentagon official who is now a visiting senior research fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, suggested the balloon’s timing was not coincident­al.

“This balloon surveillan­ce mission really demonstrat­es that even when [President] Xi is trying to improve the tone of the relationsh­ip and the rhetoric softens, there is no interest on Beijing’s part to act with restraint or amend its behaviour,” he told The New York Times.

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