Blinken postpones visit to China due to balloons over USA | Politics News

The official called a Chinese balloon in US airspace ‘unacceptable’ but says a top US diplomat still plans to visit China when conditions allow.

Washington DC – Secretary of State Antony Blinken has postponed a visit to China, the United States government has confirmed, calling the presence of an alleged Chinese surveillance balloon in US airspace an “unacceptable” violation of its sovereignty.

A senior State Department official said Friday that “conditions are not good” for the visit, which was scheduled to begin Sunday, because of the “irresponsible” balloon flight.

China apologized for the balloon’s entry into US airspace, describing it as a civilian airship used for meteorological research that had “far deviated from its planned course” due to its “limited self-steering ability”. But the US administration said the craft was a “high-altitude surveillance balloon”.

“We noticed the PRC [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 happened,” a State Department official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

The official stressed that the lines of communication remain open between Washington and Beijing as they seek to “responsibly manage” the intensifying competition between the two countries.

“Our clear assessment was that under these current conditions it would not be constructive to visit Beijing at this time, but I will also reiterate that this is a delay and Secretary [Blinken] he plans to travel at the first convenient opportunity when conditions permit,” the official said.

Ties between Beijing and Washington have soured over a number of points of tension in recent years, including trade issues, the status of Taiwan, claims to the South China Sea and continued US pressure against growing Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific.

The US is also warning China not to come to Russia’s aid in Ukraine.

Both Chinese and American officials have stressed that they are not seeking conflict, warning of turning the competition into a new Cold War.

The balloon was first spotted over the northern US state of Montana on Thursday.

“The balloon is currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and poses no military or physical threat to people on the ground,” Pentagon Secretary Pat Ryder said in a statement.

“Examples of this type of balloon activity have already been observed over the past few years,” he said. “When the bubble was discovered, the US government acted immediately to protect itself from the collection of sensitive information.”

Canada, which borders Montana and has frozen relations with China, said it had summoned the Chinese ambassador on Thursday over the incident.

“We will continue to vigorously express our position to Chinese officials through multiple channels,” Canada’s foreign affairs ministry told Al Jazeera in an email.

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