Home Europe Blinken and China’s top diplomat spar over spy balloon incident in Munich meeting

Blinken and China’s top diplomat spar over spy balloon incident in Munich meeting

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned China’s top diplomat on Saturday that the U.S. will not tolerate violations of its airspace after a Chinese spy balloon flew over North America, but received no apologies from Beijing.

Blinken met with Wang Yi, director of China’s Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. It was the Biden administration’s first face-to-face reckoning with the Chinese government since the balloon was discovered earlier this month and subsequently downed by the U.S. military off the coast of South Carolina.

According to a State Department readout of the meeting, Blinken “directly spoke to the unacceptable violation of U.S. sovereignty and international law” by the Chinese balloon “underscoring that this irresponsible act must never again occur.” Blinken later told NBC’s Chuck Todd in an interview after the meeting that Wang offered “no apology” for the incident.

“We are very concerned that China is considering providing lethal support to Russia in its aggression against Ukraine and I made clear that that would have serious consequences in our relationship,” Blinken said in the NBC interview.

Blinken also warned Beijing about “implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia or assistance with systemic sanctions evasion,” as Moscow wages war against Ukraine.

Wang slammed the Biden administration’s destruction of the balloon and urged the U.S. to “change course, acknowledge and repair the damage that its excessive use of force caused to China-U.S. relations,” according to a statement published by Chinese state media.

The statement described the controversy as the “so-called airship incident” in an apparent effort to belittle the U.S. reaction that has included a widening bipartisan uproar about what both a House and a Senate resolution have declared was a “brazen violation” of U.S. sovereignty.

Those readouts suggest that neither side is ready to take steps to move beyond the spy balloon incident in order to steer bilateral ties toward a less-rancorous setting.

At the conference, Wang publicly slammed the U.S. response to the balloon — which Beijing insists was a weather monitoring device — as a “weak” and “near-hysterical” reaction; he also accused the U.S. of warmongering.

The meeting itself came with risks for President Joe Biden, who is trying to balance his administration’s desire to maintain “open lines of communication” with Beijing amid a widening bipartisan uproar about the Chinese balloon. Already, tense relations have been souring since its appearance. Blinken postponed an originally planned Feb. 5-6 trip to Beijing in response to the incursion.

It wasn’t clear until the final hours whether the Munich meeting between Blinken and Wang would happen. U.S. and Chinese officials had spent the last few days trying to broker the meeting, according to three people familiar with those efforts. Beijing’s condition that the U.S. formally request the meeting had slowed progress in the talks, said a Washington, D.C.-based diplomat with knowledge of the discussions.

“It’s a two-way discussion to land a meeting,” the diplomat said, adding that the Biden administration wouldn’t “bend the knee” to get the meeting. Beijing’s readout described the encounter as an “informal contact” that occurred “at the request of the U.S. side.”

Another Washington, D.C.-based diplomat with knowledge of the talks said Blinken had requested a meeting but “had no response from China” as he boarded his flight for Munich on Thursday.

Alexander Ward contributed to this report.

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