China Sends Spy Balloons Over Military Sites Worldwide, U.S. Officials Say
The new State Department campaign to divulge details of China’s spy balloon program to other governments is aimed at making allies and partners aware of the extent of Chinese aerial espionage efforts so that they can push back on Beijing’s efforts, U.S. officials said. Wendy Sherman, the deputy secretary of state, briefed U.S. diplomats abroad on the balloon program in a video conference on Monday and is preparing to speak publicly to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday, officials said.
U.S. diplomats abroad have been setting up meetings in their host countries to inform governments of the surveillance program.
The American briefings to foreign officials are designed to show that the balloons are equipped for intelligence gathering and that the Chinese military has been carrying out this collection for years, targeting, among other sites, the territories of Japan, Taiwan, India and the Philippines. U.S. diplomats argue China has violated the sovereign airspace of numerous countries, even as Chinese officials continue to insist that the two balloons seen last week over the United States and Latin America were civilian-mission machines.
“China has taken a ham-fisted approach to public information management,” said Jude Blanchette, a China scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “The moment they issued the statement of regret, they should have stopped there. Their lies that this was a civilian weather balloon made things worse.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry made the weather balloon claim in a statement last Friday, the day after the Pentagon announced a Chinese spy balloon was hovering over Montana, in an apparent attempt to persuade Mr. Blinken not to cancel a weekend trip he had planned to make to Beijing. Planning for the trip began after President Biden met with President Xi Jinping of China in Bali, Indonesia, last November, and Mr. Blinken had been expected to hold talks with Mr. Xi.
But soon after China released its statement, Mr. Blinken called Wang Yi, the Chinese Communist Party’s top foreign policy official, to tell him that China had committed “an irresponsible act” and that the trip was off.
On Wednesday, Mr. Blinken discussed China’s aggressive military actions with Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, during a meeting in Washington. At their joint news conference, Mr. Stoltenberg listed strategic problems with China, including its belligerence over Taiwan and its partnership with Russia. “NATO allies have real concerns,” he said.