US and Chinese officials have been discussing setting up a meeting between their senior diplomats – possibly in Germany this weekend – to cool festering friction from the ‘spy balloons’ affair, sources have revealed.
The Biden Administration wants to lay “a floor beneath relations with Beijing to prevent them from deteriorating further,” the Wall Street Journal said on Thursday.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi are both due to attend the Munich Security Conference, which starts on Friday and runs till Sunday (February 17-19).
Original trajectory over Guam, Hawaii
The Chinese balloon, which was shot down after crossing the US land mass, originally had a trajectory that would have taken it over Guam and Hawaii, a US official as saying.
The balloon was blown off course, he told Reuters.
According to a report by the Washington Post, US military and intelligence agencies tracked the balloon from when it lifted off from Hainan Island off southern China.
On Monday, US officials confirmed that they had recovered key electronic sensors from the balloon, as well as large sections of the vessel itself.
The shooting down of a surveillance balloon off South Carolina on February 4, plus several objects flying over North America last weekend – later suspected to be “benign” civilian or private craft with no known link to China (to date) – spurred an angry response from Beijing.
China threat of counter-measures
China claimed that US balloons have flown over its airspace without permission more than 10 times since May 2022.
“Without the approval of relevant Chinese authorities, it has illegally flown at least 10 times over China’s territorial airspace, including over Xinjiang, Tibet and other provinces,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a regular daily briefing on Wednesday.
White House spokespeople have rejected the claim, which was made without evidence.
The US move to blacklist six Chinese entities linked to China’s surveillance balloons also led to Beijing threatening counter-measures.
“The US has abused force, overreacted, escalated the situation, and used this as a pretext to illegally sanction Chinese companies and institutions,” Wang said.
“China is firmly opposed to this and will take countermeasures against relevant US entities that undermine China’s sovereignty and security in accordance with the law,” Wang said, without specifying the measures.
Biden to speak on Friday
The balloon dispute has delayed efforts by both sides to try to patch up frayed relations, although US President Joe Biden has also said that he does not believe ties between the two countries were weakened by the incident.
Biden is expected to make a statement about these matters on Friday after getting a medical check-up.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who postponed a planned trip to Beijing over the balloon, is considering meeting China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, in Munich this week, sources have told Reuters.
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said later on Wednesday that communication with China had not stopped, but gave no details about any future high-level meetings.
“We hope when conditions make sense that we will be seeing each other face-to-face again. No announcements today,” she said.
Sherman reiterated that China’s claims about US balloons were false.
“They have now said that there have been a gazillion balloons by the US over China. That is absolutely not true. There are no US government balloons over China,” she told an event at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
However, it is not known whether China’s claim about US balloon flights relates to islands Beijing has seized and fortified in the South China Sea.
- Jim Pollard with Reuters.