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Blinken Uses Curious Balloon Affair To Blow Up Diplomatic Trip to China

Feb. 3, 2023, 2022 (EIRNS)—Plans were made to make a step in the direction of normal diplomacy between China and the United States, when, in November, Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping met at the G20 summit in Bali. Today, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was to depart to China as the first major step in that process. A balloon has blown that up.

On Feb. 1, the Department of Defense reported on a balloon over Montana. This kicked off two days of discussions with the Chinese and also amongst U.S. officials. Last evening, the DOD announced:

“The United States Government has detected and is tracking a high altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now. The U.S. government, to include NORAD, continues to track and monitor it closely. The balloon is currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground. Instances of this kind of balloon activity have been observed previously over the past several years. Once the balloon was detected, the U.S. government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information.”

The DOD’s contention that China, a country that has managed to put more than a few satellites into orbit, were using balloons in 2023 to spy, already gives away the game. But, even so, the DOD states that such balloon activity has happened “over the past several years,” raising the obvious question as to why there was no ruckus before.

This evening local time, China’s Foreign Ministry, when asked about the balloon, stated for the record:

“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 Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into U.S. airspace due to force majeure. The Chinese side will continue communicating with the U.S. side and properly handle this unexpected situation caused by force majeure.”

Shortly afterwards, two unnamed “senior State Department officials” held a press briefing, in which they announced:

“We have noted the P.R.C. statement of regret.  But the presence of this balloon in our airspace is a clear violation of our sovereignty, as well as international law, and it is unacceptable that this has occurred.  After consultations with our interagency partners, as well as with Congress, we have concluded that the conditions are not right at this moment for Secretary Blinken to travel to China.”

One can only wonder, what was deficient in the Chinese account of the incident, that brought the two days’ of deliberations to the State Department’s decision. AP’s Matt Lee asked with curiosity, what about the Chinese explanation, its “statement of contrition” wasn’t enough, and “why did that not have any impact?” The official merely reiterated that the “balloon in our airspace is clearly unacceptable and a clear violation of our sovereignty. And our clear assessment was that under these current conditions it wouldn’t be constructive to visit Beijing at this time.”

Other members of the press attempted, repeatedly, to ascertain why previous balloons caused no such uproar, but this one did. Finally, the second official stepped in, telling Margaret Brennan: “This is the first time it’s happened on the eve of a planned Secretary of State visit to the P.R.C. Case closed.

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