U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed his upcoming trip to China after the Pentagon spotted a suspected Chinese spy balloon flying over the continental U.S.
Blinken was due to depart for Beijing on Friday. However, the surveillance balloon “created the conditions that undermine the purpose of the trip,” he said in a press conference on Friday, adding that he informed China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, about his decision.
“In my call today with Director Wang Yi, I made clear that the presence of this surveillance balloon in US airspace is a clear violation of US sovereignty and international law, that it’s an irresponsible act, and that the (People’s Republic of China) decision to take this action on the eve of my planned visit is detrimental to the substantive discussions that we were prepared to have,” Blinken said.
The Pentagon spotted the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon on Thursday and believes that it was sent to collect sensitive information.
“We are confident that this high-altitude surveillance balloon belongs to the [People’s Republic of China],” a senior defense official said. “Instances of this activity have been observed over the past several years, including prior to this administration.”
Blinked added that the Pentagon discovered a second Chinese spy balloon transiting over Latin America. However, it is unclear where exactly over Latin America it is currently located.
“We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America. We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon,” Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said in a statement to CNN.
China’s Foreign Ministry said that the balloon was a “civilian airship” used for weather research that had strayed from its intended course.
“It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes. Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course. The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure,” the Chinese foreign ministry said.