US Braces for China's Response

Balloon crisis sets back diplomatic efforts
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 4, 2023 5:25 PM CST
US Braces for China's Response
President Biden speaks with reporters Saturday after stepping off Air Force One in Hagerstown, Maryland, on his way to Camp David.   (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Now that the US has ended what it says was an espionage flight and China says was an off-course weather balloon, US officials are waiting for a response. Among the possibilities is a retaliatory strike by China, the New York Times reports. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who canceled a planned trip to China after the crisis broke, told Chinese officials in Washington and Beijing this week that the US had the right to take military action against the balloon. Similar balloons from China and other nations have appeared before, but the sticking point this time apparently was the unusual length of time this one spent over the US—five days.

The balloon crisis is a setback for efforts to improve US-China relations, experts said. "This incident is incredibly embarrassing for Beijing," Craig Singleton, of the Washington think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies told NBC News on Saturday. "It reinforces concerns that most Western nations justifiably harbor about China's great power ambitions." Blinken's visit would have been a public relations coup for China's government, he said, "signaling that America has dispatched its top envoy to China and not the other way round." Now China has to do diplomatic damage control, Singleton said.

Biden's approach to relations with China, including the postponement of Blinken's trip, isn't so much based on concern that the two nations will decide to start a full-out war starting as it is the cost of a mistake, said Daniel Russel, an American diplomat—something like letting a spy balloon be spotted over the US. David Sacks of the Council on Foreign Relations said that's probably what this was, a "bureaucratic blunder" on China's part. Russel said top of mind for Biden, per the Washington Post, is "an incident or accident that occurs because the Chinese have a misunderstanding about the situation and, in many cases, a misunderstanding about the United States." (More US-China relations stories.)

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