Blinken, Wang reportedly discuss holding meeting delayed by balloon fiasco

BEIJING (Agencies): Nearly two weeks after postponing his trip to Beijing, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is considering rescheduling at least one of the meetings that would have taken place. The trip was put off after a high-altitude balloon that Washington claimed was a Chinese spy balloon was spotted over the US.

While Blinken is not yet expected to try and travel to Beijing, he could still meet with Wang Yi, the Communist Party of China’s foreign policy chief and his former counterpart. Both men will be in Germany for the Munich Security Conference from February 17 through 19, and Blinken has reportedly reached out to Wang’s office to set up an encounter, according to anonymous sources who spoke with US media.

The trip was originally scheduled for February 4 and 5, and Blinken was to meet with Wang as well as Foreign Minister Qin Gang and Chinese President Xi Jinping. It would have been the latest in several high-profile meetings between US and Chinese officials as the two nations seek to repair bilateral relations. Blinken said the meeting would have to wait until “conditions are right” because of the balloon overflight.

Those ties reached a nadir last August when then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) traveled to Taiwan in defiance of Chinese warnings, met with Taiwanese leaders, and called for a greater confrontation with China. China views Taiwan as a Chinese province in rebellion and described Pelosi’s visit as a serious breach of Chinese sovereignty and interference in Chinese internal affairs. Massive Chinese war games followed, including ballistic missiles that were fired over Taiwan and splashed down in the Philippine Sea near other islets claimed by Japan, raising tensions there as well.

In November, Xi met with US President Joe Biden and the two agreed on the need to calm tensions, but did not discard the idea of intense competition between them; later, top economic officials met in Davos and agreed on the need to cooperate on keeping the global economy as stable as possible.

Notably, in the two previous meetings and in the proposed meeting later this week, US and Chinese officials have met on the sidelines of wider fora rather than at summits held for the sole purpose of them negotiating.

It’s unclear what impact the White House’s decision to shoot down the Chinese balloon on February 4 will have on the ability of Blinken and Wang to meet in person. The US has accused China of running a global surveillance operation using high-altitude balloons and said the one shot down was part of that program – China has denied the claims, saying the balloon was used by civilian scientists who lost control of it.

Blinken and Wang spoke on the phone over the weekend, during which Blinken called the balloon flight “an irresponsible act and a clear violation of US sovereignty and international law that undermined the purpose of the trip.” Wang reiterated Beijing’s position, saying the US was overreacting.

However, Beijing soon reversed the accusations, claiming to have spotted at least 10 American balloons in Chinese skies over the past year.

“It is nothing rare for US balloons to illegally enter other country’s airspace… The US needs to reflect upon its own behavior, instead of slandering, smearing and provoking confrontation,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters on Monday.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the US routinely flew surveillance flights over China, including U-2 spy planes and a spy balloon program called Project Genetrix that disguised its purpose by claiming them to be weather balloons. The flights supposedly ended after the US and China established diplomatic relations in the late 1970s.

Courtesy: sputniknews