China calls for calm amid growing row with US over suspected spy balloons
Beijing says it will ‘not accept any groundless conjecture’ after balloons spotted over US and Latin America
China has called for calm amid a growing diplomatic row with the US over suspected spy balloons.
It comes after the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, indefinitely postponed a planned visit to Beijing after a large balloon was spotted in US airspace.
On Friday, a day after the first high-altitude balloon was identified over Montana, the Pentagon reported a second suspected spy balloon flying over Latin America.
Amid growing tensions between the two countries – and Republican party claims that the Biden administration is not doing enough to deter its adversaries – China called for a “cool-headed” handling of the dispute.
The Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday that Beijing “never violated the territory and airspace of any sovereign country”.
The ministry said China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, had spoken with Blinken in a phone conversation and emphasised the importance of maintaining communications. “Especially in dealing with some unexpected situations in a calm and reliable manner,” it added.
Beijing “would not accept any groundless conjecture or hype”, it added, accusing some US politicians and media of using the incident “as a pretext to attack and smear China”.
Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state under Donald Trump and former CIA director, said on Saturday that Blinken’s cancellation of his planned trip to Beijing was “not remotely enough”, describing the incident as an “intentional incursion” into US airspace.
Asked whether the balloon should be shot down, Pompeo told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Shut down by whatever means is most likely to achieve a couple of goals. One, to let the Chinese Communist party know that we’re serious. Two, to find out what it is that they’re collecting … and finally to do so in a way that is safe for everyone on the ground.”
He added: “We should defeat this Chinese spying effort. We can do it, it’s not that complicated. Pull it off, pull it down and let the Chinese Communist party know that they’re not going to walk all over us.”
Citing Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the 13 US troops killed in Afghanistan in 2021, he said: “This administration is suffering from a lack of deterrence.”
He added: “The whole world is watching to see if the United States is serious. The Chinese are probing, they are prodding, they are trying to figure out how far they can go.”
Following the second balloon sighting, the Pentagon confirmed its existence but not its precise location.
“We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America,” the spokesperson Pat Ryder said. “We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon.”
Speaking in South Korea on Friday, Blinken said he had spoken with Wang and “made clear that the presence of this surveillance balloon in US airspace is a clear violation of US sovereignty and international law”. He said it was unacceptable and “even more irresponsible coming on the eve of a long-planned visit”.
Blinken had been due to visit Beijing on 5-6 February for talks on a wide range of issues including security, Taiwan and Covid. The trip would have been the first high-level meeting between the two countries in years.
Police in North Carolina warned people not to take “pot shots” at the balloon, as it was predicted to cross the area on Saturday. And police in Gastonia city asked people not to call them with sightings, saying they “don’t have the capability to respond to an altitude of 60k feet to check it out”.
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