China played down the cancellation of a high-stakes visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken after a large Chinese balloon, suspected of conducting surveillance on US military sites, roiled diplomatic relations on Friday.
“In actuality, the US and China have never announced any visit, the US making any such announcement is their own business, and we respect that,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Saturday morning.
Blinken was due to visit Beijing on Sunday for talks aimed at reducing US-China tensions, the first such high-profile trip after the countries’ leaders met last November in Indonesia. But Washington suddenly cancelled the trip after the discovery of the huge mysterious air balloon.
China claims it was merely a weather research ‘airship’ that had blown off course.
But the Pentagon has rejected China’s claims.
Uncensored reactions on Chinese websites have mirrored the official government stance that the US is overreacting.
The balloon was spotted on Friday over the State of Montana, which is home to one of America’s three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base, defence officials said.
President Joe Biden had declined to shoot down the balloon, following the advice of defence officials who worried the debris could injure people below.
Meanwhile, people with binoculars and telephoto lenses tried to find the ‘spy balloon’ in the sky as it headed southeastward over Kansas and Missouri flying at some 60,000 feet high.
The Pentagon also acknowledged reports of a second balloon flying over Latin America. “We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon,” Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon’s press secretary, said in a statement.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a question about the second balloon.
China has denied any claims of spying and said it is a civilian-use balloon intended for meteorology research.
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