WASHINGTON, February 3. /TASS/. The US Department of State has confirmed Washington’s decision to postpone Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to China due to a surveillance balloon incident.
"The Secretary was prepared to depart for Beijing tonight," a senior Department of State official said at a briefing. "Yesterday, the Department of Defense released a statement saying that it has detected and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States," he added.
"We have noted the PRC 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," the official said, adding that Blinken planned "to travel to the PRC at the earliest opportunity when conditions allow."
The Department of State official emphasized that the United States "will maintain open lines of communication with the PRC to address our concerns about this ongoing incident, and to responsibly manage the competition between our countries."
Pentagon Press Secretary Patrick Ryder said on Thursday that the US "government has detected and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States." He added that 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." However, the Pentagon said that it was dangerous to shoot the balloon down because of its size. Still, Ryder noted that the US authorities had taken steps "to protect against foreign intelligence collection of sensitive information."
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson specified that the civilian airship, which was used for meteorological research, had deviated from its planned course. The Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed regret over the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace and said that Beijing was ready to maintain contact with Washington to handle the situation.