Blinken Postpones Trip to China After Balloon Is Detected Over U.S.

The defense secretary, Lloyd J. Austin III, held a meeting about the balloon with senior U.S. defense officials while he was in the Philippines, and President Biden “was briefed and asked for military options,” a Pentagon official told reporters.

China appeared eager to avoid letting the balloon become a festering irritant during Mr. Blinken’s planned two-day visit to Beijing, which had been scheduled to begin on Sunday. Speaking before China’s statement was issued, Drew Thompson, a former Pentagon official who is now a visiting senior research fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, said the timing of the balloon flight was at least maladroit.

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China is also smarting over the United States’ announcement on Thursday that it would expand its military presence in the Philippines, gaining access to four more sites that potentially could be used to marshal forces to deter or respond to Chinese military threats to Taiwan.

“This balloon surveillance mission really demonstrates that even when Xi is trying to improve the tone of the relationship and the rhetoric softens,” Mr. Thompson said of China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, “there is no interest on Beijing’s part to act with restraint or amend its behavior in ways that actually contribute to genuinely improving the condition of the relationship.”

After the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued its explanation, Mr. Thompson said: “I don’t think the statement changes the facts or the violation of U.S. airspace. At best, it is irresponsible.”

China’s Ministry of National Defense, which usually comments on military issues, did not comment.

“China is a responsible country, always strictly abides by international law, and has no intention of violating any sovereign country’s territory or airspace,” Mao Ning, a spokeswoman for the foreign ministry, told a regular news briefing on Friday afternoon. But she said then that the authorities needed to check the reports.

The Global Times, a Communist Party-run newspaper that has become a vehicle for pugnacious, sometimes quasi-official reactions from Beijing, suggested that the balloon reports were in line with what it called U.S. efforts to “create a Cold War atmosphere and exacerbate China-U.S. tensions.”

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