China refused conversation with US defense secretary following downing of suspected spy balloon

The Pentagon said in a statement on Tuesday that China refused to talk to US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin after the suspected Chinese balloon was shot down.

The Defense Department submitted a request for a call between Austin and China’s Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe shortly after the balloon was shot down by U.S. fighter jets on Saturday afternoon. But according to the Pentagon, China rejected the request.

“We believe in the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between the United States and the United States. [People’s Republic of China] To manage relationships responsibly,” Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement.

China maintains that the craft was a weather balloon that went astray, but in a statement on Friday it offered a rare expression of “regret”.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blanken postponed a visit to Beijing that was scheduled to take place late last week over the presence of the balloon and President Joe Biden’s decision to shoot it down has heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing.

Beijing’s rhetoric hardened significantly after the US military shot down the balloon, with China’s foreign ministry accusing the US of “overreacting” and “serious violation of international exercises”. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defense expressed “firm protest,” warning that China “reserves the right to use necessary means to deal with similar situations.”

On Monday, China’s foreign ministry said the balloon debris was not from the United States. “The plane belongs to China, not to the United States,” a ministry spokesman said at a regular news conference, when asked if the United States should return the remains of the balloon to China.

Austin last met his Chinese counterpart in November in Siem Reap, Cambodia on the sidelines of the Southeast Asian Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus. The two also met earlier at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in June.

In both meetings, Austin emphasized the importance of keeping open lines of communication between the two militaries, a message Biden also conveyed in his high-level meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Bali, Indonesia, in November.

Blanken, who was scheduled to leave for Beijing on Friday night, said at a news conference Friday that the balloon’s presence over the continental United States “created conditions that undermine the purpose of the trip.” He informed Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat, in a call on Friday morning that he was postponing.

“In my call with Director Wang Yi today, I made it clear that the presence of this surveillance balloon in US airspace is a clear violation of US sovereignty and international law, that this is an irresponsible act, and that (People’s Republic of China)’s decision. Taking this action on the eve of my scheduled visit is detrimental to the substantive talks we were prepared for, Blanken told reporters on Friday.

A senior State Department official said on Friday that the US recognized China’s “statement of regret” but that the balloon’s presence in US airspace was “a clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law. And it’s unacceptable that it happened.”

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