China balloon soaring over US deflates hopes for diplomatic thawThe reaction in the United States to what appears to be an ill-timed spying mission will have lingering consequences for efforts to stabilize ties – already near historic lows.
The political uproar over a suspected Chinese spy balloon drifting over the United States did not just derail a planned visit to Beijing by the top US diplomat, it also threatens to upset attempts by both countries to steady an increasingly rocky relationship.
The reaction in the United States to what appears to be an ill-timed spying mission will have lingering consequences for efforts to stabilize ties – already near historic lows. Some US lawmakers are demanding that President Joe Biden, a Democrat, hold China to account for what officials are calling an unacceptable violation of US sovereignty.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who postponed a trip that was to begin on Friday, said he would be prepared to visit Beijing “when conditions allow,” but the administration could be hard-pressed to quickly revive the trip short of China offering up serious gestures of goodwill, policy analysts said.
Daniel Russel, the top US diplomat for Asia under then-President Barack Obama, said China’s “laughable alibi” that the aircraft was an errant weather balloon, didn’t help.
“This incident has soured the atmosphere and hardened positions and there’s no guarantee the two sides can successfully resurrect the ‘Bali’ momentum,” Russel said, referring to the November meeting between Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Indonesia where they agreed to increase communications.
Ties between the superpowers have frayed over the past few years and sank to their worst in decades last August, when then US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, prompting Beijing to conduct military drills near the Chinese-claimed island.
Since then, the Biden administration has said it hopes to build a “floor” for the relationship and ensure that rivalry does not spiral into conflict.
But Republicans who control the House are already working on ways to investigate potential threats from the United States’ top geopolitical rival and have been quick to put heat on Biden about the balloon, questioning how it was allowed into US airspace.