US says will preserve dialogue with China despite balloon rift

WASHINGTON (AFP): The United States will work to maintain lines of communication with China despite a rift over an alleged surveillance balloon, a top US diplomat said Wednesday.

The United States and China have “never stopped communicating and trying to understand each other” despite the cancellation this month of a visit by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, said his deputy, Wendy Sherman.

“We have, we are and we will maintain open lines of communication with the PRC so we can responsibly manage the competition between our countries,” Sherman said, using the acronym of the People’s Republic of China.

“We do not see conflict with the PRC. We believe in the power of diplomacy to prevent miscalculations that can lead to conflict,” she said in a speech at the Brookings Institution.

Referring to talk among US hawks to extract the United States from China’s economy, Sherman said, “We’re not talking about decoupling anywhere. De-risking where it makes sense — absolutely.”

She said, however, that the United States would remain firm on concerns with China including human rights in Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang, its use of “economic coercion” and its “threatening behavior” against Taiwan.

Sherman, in response to a question, declined to say if Blinken would meet China’s foreign policy supremo Wang Yi later this week when both attend the Munich Security Conference.

But she indicated that Blinken’s trip to China was postponed rather than canceled, saying, “We hope to put it back on the schedule.”

President Joe Biden ordered the shootdown of the balloon after it crossed US territory, including over areas with sensitive military sites. US officials said it was a surveillance balloon but that it provided limited intelligence.

Beijing insisted that the balloon was for weather surveillance and had gone astray and has accused the United States of sending its own balloons over China, charges denied by Washington.

Tensions spiked last year after a visit by then House speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, the self-governing democracy claimed by Beijing which carried out major military exercises in response.

Pelosi’s Republican successor Kevin McCarthy has said he will also visit Taiwan, which the United States supports through military sales but does not recognize.

“We will continue to assist Taiwan and we hope that the PRC does not use a visit by a member of Congress to Taiwan as a pretext for military action,” Sherman said.