In his most extensive remarks on the Chinese ‘spy balloon’ incident, US President Joe Biden said on Thursday he expects to speak with China’s president, Xi Jinping.
“We are not looking for a new cold war,” Biden said.
The US president’s remarks come amid a Financial Times report that the Pentagon’s top China official Michael Chase arrived in Taiwan on Friday. Beijing views the self-ruled island as a breakaway province and refers to it as the most important and sensitive issue in its ties with Washington.
Biden did not say when he would speak with Xi, but said the United States was continuing to engage diplomatically with China on the issue.
“I expect to be speaking with President Xi. I hope we are going to get to the bottom of this, but I make no apologies for taking down that balloon,” Biden said in response to complaints from Beijing.
After the speech, Biden told NBC News: “I think the last thing that Xi wants is to fundamentally rip the relationship with the United States and with me.”
China has maintained that the object, shot down by a US fighter jet early this month, was a weather balloon and slammed the Biden Administration for ‘overreacting’. But Washington says it clearly was a surveillance balloon with a massive undercarriage containing electronics.
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters on Wednesday that the downed Chinese balloon had a trajectory that would have taken it over Guam and Hawaii. It was blown off course by prevailing winds, the official said.
Other downed objects ‘not connected to China’
Biden said the US intelligence community was still trying to learn more about the three other unidentified objects that were shot down after the Chinese balloon.
“We don’t yet know exactly what these three objects were, but nothing right now suggests they were related to the Chinese spy balloon programme or they were surveillance vehicles from any other country,” Biden said.
The intelligence community believes the objects were “most likely balloons tied to private companies, recreation or research institutions,” Biden said.
Biden said they might have been spotted due to radar that was enhanced in response to the Chinese balloon.
“That’s why I’ve directed my team to come back to me with sharper rules for how we will deal with these unidentified objects moving forward, distinguishing between those that are likely to pose safety and security risks that necessitate action and those that do not,” he said.
Biden said the results of the administration’s review of how to deal with unidentified objects going forward would be classified and shared with relevant members of Congress. “These parameters will remain classified so we don’t give a road map to our enemies to try to evade our defences,” he said.
China slams US again
Asked in advance about Biden’s remarks, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman on Thursday once again said the balloon’s flight into US airspace was an “isolated” incident.
The balloon was “a test for the US side’s capability to properly manage crisis and sincerity about stabilising relations with China,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters at a regular briefing.
“The US needs to stop stressing the importance of communication and dialogue while fuelling tensions and escalating the crisis,” he said.
The US needs to “avoid misunderstanding and miscalculation, and bring China-US relations back to the track of sound and steady development,” he added.
Wenbin also doubled down on China’s claims that the US had “illegally” flown high-altitude balloons over China’s airspace. “The US should also give an explanation for eavesdropping on and stealing secrets from countries around the world,” he said.
Answering a separate question, Wenbin said a US Senate resolution condemning the Chinese balloon was “purely meant to score political points and dramatise the situation.”
- Reuters, with additional inputs from Vishakha Saxena