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Chinese balloon: Blinken postpones China visit following discovery of spy balloon

Secretary of State calls off trip just hours before he was due to depart to Beijing

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken US Secretary of State Antony Blinken | Reuters

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has postponed a planned high-stakes weekend diplomatic trip to China as the Biden administration weighs a broader response to the discovery of a high-altitude Chinese balloon flying over sensitive sites in the western United States, a US official said Friday.

The abrupt decision comes despite China's claim that the balloon was a weather research satellite that had blown off-course. The US has described it as a surveillance satellite.

The decision came just hours before Blinken had been due to depart Washington for Beijing and marked a new blow to already strained US-Chinese relations. Officials said Blinken and President Joe Biden determined it was best not to proceed with the trip at this time. 

A suspected Chinese spy balloon, said to be the size of three buses, was spotted over the United States' airspace, the Pentagon has said, a development that has further strained the already tense bilateral ties.

Blinken's visit was expected to be a significant trip meant to follow up on President Joe Biden's meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in November last year in Bali, Indonesia.

Reacting to the Pentagon's report, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson confirmed that the balloon was a Chinese 'civilian airship' which had deviated from its planned route. 

"The airship is from China. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes," the spokesperson said in a statement posted on the Chinese foreign ministry's website.

"Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course. The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure," the statement said. 

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