After the Pentagon claimed there was a Beijing-operated surveillance balloon hovering over American skies, Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled his plans to visit China next week. While a Department of Defense official told the media it has “high confidence” the unknown balloon is a Chinese-operated surveillance craft, it has released no details on how the Pentagon reached that conclusion. Beijing issued a statement saying the balloon is from China, but it is merely a civilian weather balloon.

On Thursday, American defense officials revealed to reporters that the DoD has tracked a balloon for several days in American skies. However, the Pentagon admitted Beijing would gain little from such a surveillance device. “First, our best assessment at the moment is that whatever the surveillance payload is on this balloon, it does not create significant value added over and above what the PRC (People’s Republic of China) is likely able to collect through things like satellites in Low Earth Orbit,” the official said.

The official added that the Pentagon did not shoot down the balloon, which is located in the skies above Montana, because falling debris could injure people on the ground. DoD spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the balloon will not interfere with civilian aircraft and does not present a military threat.

The White House is reacting to the alleged Chinese craft by canceling a high-level diplomatic summit in Beijing. Had Blinken made the trip he would have met with the Chinese foreign minister and potentially President Xi Jinping.

A senior State Department spokesperson told reports on Friday, “[a]fter consultations with our interagency partners, as well as with Congress, we have concluded that the conditions are not right at this moment for Secretary Blinken to travel to China.” The US is claiming that the talks are postponed and will take place at a later date, but did not indicate when that may happen.

China issued a statement on Friday saying the craft was a weather balloon for civilian scientific purposes. “The airship comes from China and is of a civilian nature, used for scientific research such as meteorology,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said. Beijing claimed strong winds created a situation outside of its control that pushed the balloon into American airspace.

Beijing said it regretted that its balloon drifted into American skies and called for talks to resolve the dispute. However, talks will now be less likely as the State Department is keeping its distance from China.

Still, some in Congress are calling for more action. Senator Marco Rubio asserted the balloon was a Chinese surveillance craft that should be shot down. “It was a mistake to not shoot down that Chinese spy balloon when it was over a sparsely populated area. This is not some hot air balloon, it has a large payload of sensors roughly the size of two city buses & the ability to maneuver independently,” Rubio Tweeted Friday.

**By Kyle Anzalone


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