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China spy balloon: 'Have never announced any visit', says China on Blinken's cancelled tour

US Prez Joe Biden declines to shoot down balloon following defence officials' advice

China spy balloon A balloon floats over Columbia. A huge, high-altitude Chinese balloon sailed across the US on Friday, drawing severe Pentagon accusations of spying despite China's firm denials | AP

China played down the cancellation of a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken after a large Chinese balloon suspected of conducting surveillance on US military sites roiled diplomatic relations, saying that neither side had formally announced any such plan.

“In actuality, the US and China have never announced any visit, the US making any such announcement is their own business, and we respect that," China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Saturday morning.

Blinken was due to visit Beijing on Sunday for talks aimed at reducing US-China tensions, the first such high-profile trip after the countries' leaders met last November in Indonesia. But the US abruptly cancelled the trip after the discovery of the huge balloon despite China's claim that it was merely a weather research airship that had blown off course.

The Pentagon rejected that out of hand, as well as China's contention that the balloon was not being used for surveillance and had only limited navigational ability.

Uncensored reactions on the Chinese internet mirrored the official government stance that the US was hyping up the situation.

The US is hyping this as a national security threat posed by China to the US. “This type of military threat, in actuality, we haven't done this. And compared with the US military threat normally aimed at us, can you say it's just little? Their surveillance planes, their submarines, their naval ships are all coming near our borders,” Chinese military expert Chen Haoyang of the Taihe Institute said on Phoenix TV, one of the major national TV outlets.

The balloon was spotted earlier over Montana, which is home to one of America's three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base, defence officials said.

President Joe Biden had declined to shoot down the balloon, following the advice of defence officials who worried the debris could injure people below. Meanwhile, people with binoculars and telephoto lenses tried to find the spy balloon in the sky as it headed southeastward over Kansas and Missouri at 60,000 feet (18,300 meters).

China has denied any claims of spying, and said it is a civilian-use balloon intended for meteorology research. Experts have said that their response was feasible.

But analysts said the unexpected incident will not help the strained ties between the two countries, particularly China's initial response where it said they could not control the balloon and regretted that it unintentionally entered US space.

On Saturday, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs again emphasised that the balloon's journey was out of its control and urged the US to not smear it based on the balloon.

Wang said China has always strictly followed international law, “we do not accept any groundless speculation and hype. Faced with unexpected situations, both parties need to keep calm, communicate in a timely manner, avoid misjudgments and manage differences.”

Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore, said China's apology did not appear sincere.

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