Hot air and blunt talk illustrate China and US crisis

Blinken and Wang clash in Munich amid ‘Balloongate’ and fears that China will supply weapons to Russia

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has revealed that Chinese counterpart Wang Yi did not apologize during a meeting in Munich for Beijing’s violation of American airspace.

Blinken made it clear that the spying incident, involving a high-altitude Chinese surveillance balloon, was unacceptable and must never happen again.

The two diplomats met for an hour on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference in Germany on Saturday. 

It marked their first face-to-face meeting since the United States shot down the balloon earlier this month over the Atlantic Ocean off the US Eastern Seaboard after it traversed the mainland for eight days.

Blinken told NBC’s Meet the Press in an interview aired on Sunday: “There was no apology. But what I can also tell you is this was an opportunity to speak very clearly and very directly about the fact that China sent a surveillance balloon over our territory, violating our sovereignty, violating international law.

Rejected explanation

“And I told him quite simply that that was unacceptable and can never happen again. We’re of course not the only ones on the receiving end of these surveillance balloons. More than 40 countries have had these balloons fly over them in recent years, and that’s been exposed to the world,” Blinken added.

China has contended that the balloon, the size of two or three school buses, was a weather airship that drifted off course in the winds over the US, but American officials, including Blinken, have rejected that explanation.

“What is clear is that, once the balloon was over the United States and flying basically west to east, it attempted to surveil very sensitive military sites,” he said. 

Take aim, fire … A Chinese surveillance balloon spirals into the sea. Image: YouTube

“In some cases, it loitered or returned to them as it progressed east. So, there’s no doubt in our minds at all that this was a surveillance balloon and it was attempting to engage in active surveillance,” Blinken added.

The US has subsequently retrieved much of the balloon’s payload from the ocean floor off the coast of the southern state of South Carolina and sent the parts to the FBI’s laboratory outside Washington for examination.

Both countries deploy spy satellites. Beijing has accused Washington, while offering no evidence, of sending at least 10 balloons over China in recent years, an allegation the US said is false.

Blinken, who canceled a scheduled trip to Beijing because of the spy balloon incident, made it clear that rescheduling was not discussed with Wang.

Spy balloon

Aside from their discussions about the spy balloon, Blinken said he shared the “very real concerns” of the US about China’s support for Russia’s war against Ukraine. The anniversary of the conflict takes place on Friday.

“We are very concerned that China is considering providing lethal support to Russia in its aggression against Ukraine. And I made clear that that would have serious consequences in our relationship as well, something that President [Joe] Biden has shared directly with President Xi [Jinping] on several occasions,” Blinken said.

“To the best of our knowledge, they haven’t crossed that line yet [to provide military assistance to Russia]. But the main concern is material support to Russia’s war effort that would have a lethal effect,” he continued.

US Navy personnel retrieve wreckage from the Chinese balloon. Photo: US Fleet Forces Command

“So I think it’s important that we make clear, as I did this evening in my meeting with Wang Yi, that this is something that is of deep concern to us. And I made clear the importance of not crossing that line, and the fact that it would have serious consequences in our own relationship, something that we do not need on top of the balloon incident that China’s engaged in,” Blinken added.

Despite the current situation, he said the US does not want to engage in a Cold War with China, the second-largest economy in the world.

“This is obviously among the most consequential but also complex relationships that we have, and probably the same could be said for many other countries around the world,” Blinken pointed out.

Solemn position

“And of course, we’re in a vigorous competition with China, and that’s something we’re not at all shy about. We intend to compete very vigorously, and we’ve taken important steps over the last couple of years to invest in ourselves so that we compete effectively,” he said.

“But also to align with allies and partners around the world so that we have a shared approach to some of the challenges that China poses,” Blinken added.

China’s state-run news outlet reported that the meeting with Wang took place at the request of the US. In response, Wang stated China’s “solemn position,” requesting that Washington “changes course” and fixes the damage done to the bilateral relationship caused by the “abuse of force” in shooting down the balloon.

This edited version of an article is republished courtesy of Voice of America. Read the original article here.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of China Factor.