Secretary of State Antony Blinken has postponed a trip to Beijing after a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon was detected in U.S. airspace, a senior State Department official said Friday.
Officials said the U.S. noted that China had issued a statement of regret, but described the balloon’s presence as a grievous violation that required a strong response.
“We have noted the [People’s Republic of China] 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,” the official said.
“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.”
The secretary had been set to leave for Beijing on Friday evening in a trip that was extensively planned since it was first announced after President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in Bali, Indonesia, in November at the Group of 20 summit.
But the detection of the Chinese surveillance balloon prompted a new assessment that the trip could not continue. The senior State Department official said the secretary and the deputy secretary spoke with senior Chinese representatives in Washington on Wednesday night.
The official said the message from U.S. officials to Chinese officials was that the surveillance balloon was “an unacceptable and irresponsible incident.”
The Department of Defense issued a public statement Thursday night that the surveillance balloon had been detected.
The State Department official said Blinken would look to travel to China “at the earliest opportunity when conditions allow,” but said that in the meantime the U.S. is maintaining lines of communication with Beijing to address concerns about the incident with the balloon.
The official said that the State Department had assessed that a trip to Beijing under the tension of the surveillance balloon “would not be conducive or constructive” and that it would have “significantly narrowed the agenda that we would have been able to address.”
The official did not address what conditions would allow for the trip to be rescheduled.