China said Wednesday that the US reaction to a Chinese balloon accidentally drifting into US airspace has set back diplomatic progress that was made since President Biden met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Bali, Indonesia, back in November.
“This is a clear overreaction that seriously contravenes the spirit of international law and customary international practice,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said, referring to the US shooting down the balloon with an F-22 fighter jet.
“What the US did has had a grave impact on the efforts and progress made by China and the US in stabilizing bilateral relations since the leaders’ meeting in Bali,” Wang added.
After Biden and Xi met in Bali, other high-level US and Chinese officials made a point to hold talks, although the Biden administration made clear the dialogue was about “managing competition” rather than resolving issues. But after the Pentagon first announced a Chinese balloon was in its airspace, Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a planned trip to China.
Despite Blinken canceling his trip, the State Department insists it will maintain communication with China. “We have, we are and we will maintain open lines of communication with the PRC so we can responsibly manage the competition between our countries,” Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said Wednesday.
Wang reiterated China’s position that the balloon entered US airspace by accident. The Washington Post appeared to confirm Beijing’s stance, reporting on Tuesday that the balloon drifted over the US due to unexpected weather. The White House also admitted that the three objects the US military shot down after the balloon were likely “totally benign” and weren’t linked to China.
US officials still maintain that the Chinese balloon was a surveillance device, an accusation Beijing denies. Wang reiterated on Wednesday that China has previously spotted “high altitude” balloons over its territory in the past, specifically over Xinjiang and Tibet.
“Since May last year, the US has released a large number of high-altitude balloons from its territory, which have continuously circled the globe and illegally flown over China’s airspace, including Xinjiang and Tibet, more than ten times at least without the approval of relevant Chinese authorities,” Wang said.
The US has denied that it’s sent “surveillance” balloons over China, but Wang didn’t say if Beijing assessed if the American balloons were used for spying. Both the US and China have advanced satellites with surveillance capabilities that make deploying spy aircraft over each other’s territory unnecessary. However, POLITICO reported in July 2022 that the Pentagon was planning to deploy surveillance balloons to use against China and Russia.