Antony Blinken meets with China’s top diplomat in first face-to-face since balloon saga

Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi on Saturday for the first in-person meeting between senior U.S. and Chinese officials since the shootdown of the suspected Chinese spy balloon earlier this month.

In a meeting on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, Mr. Blinken addressed the spy balloon saga head-on with his Chinese counterpart, according to a statement from State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

“The Secretary directly spoke to the unacceptable violation of U.S. sovereignty and international law by the PRC high-altitude surveillance balloon in U.S. territorial airspace, underscoring that this irresponsible act must never again occur,” Mr. Price said.

The Chinese balloon saga has led to a tipping point in U.S.-China relations.

Mr. Blinken abruptly canceled a long-planned trip to China that was meant to salvage the quickly souring relationship earlier this month in response to China’s weeklong violation of U.S. airspace before the suspected spy craft was shot down off the coast of South Carolina.

The White House called the presence of the alleged spy balloon a “clear violation” of U.S. sovereignty and international law earlier this month as the balloon tracked across the lower 48 states.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who led the U.S. envoy to the conference in Munich, came under fire earlier in the week for downplaying the impact that the takedown of the Chinese spy balloon over U.S. airspace will have on diplomatic relations between the two countries.

In an interview with Politico, Ms. Harris said she didn’t think the episode would impact relations between Washington and Beijing, apparently overlooking the fact that Secretary of State Blinken canceled a scheduled trip to China over the controversy.

When asked whether the Chinese surveillance overflight of the U.S. earlier this month should have an impact on diplomacy between the two global heavyweights, the vice president told the outlet: “I don’t think so, no.”

She added that the U.S. seeks “competition, but not conflict or confrontation” with Beijing, in keeping with President Biden’s stated approach before the surveillance balloon saga.

Mrs. Harris also noted in the interview that she conveyed that approach in November when she briefly met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bangkok.

“Everything that has happened in the last week and a half is, we believe, very consistent with our stated approach,” she said.

Ms. Harris’ remarks to Politico seemed to belie the gravity the administration has publicly placed on the Chinese incursion.

On Saturday, Mr. Blinken “made clear the United States will not stand for any violation of our sovereignty, and that the PRC’s high altitude surveillance balloon program — which intruded into the air space of over 40 countries across 5 continents —has been exposed to the world,” Mr. Price said.

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