Secretary of State Antony Blinken explained his decision to postpone a scheduled trip to China earlier this month while the Chinese spy balloon was flying over U.S. airspace.
In an interview with NPR broadcast on Tuesday, Blinken said that he had planned to visit Beijing to maintain channels of communication with the Chinese government, but the presence of the spy balloon meant the timing wasn’t right.
“We believe that diplomacy and engagement are important,” Blinken said. “In fact, this only underscores the importance of having lines of communication. That was in part the purpose of the trip I had intended to take, but in the context of the surveillance balloon, those weren’t the right conditions to go forward with the trip.”
Blinken abruptly decided to not travel to China hours ahead of his scheduled departure as the U.S. considered how to respond to the spy balloon.
The White House has maintained that the trip was postponed, not canceled altogether. The trip was agreed upon by Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping when the two met in Indonesia during the G20 summit in November, according to The Associated Press.
The U.S. military ended up shooting down the balloon on Feb. 4, after it drifted over the Atlantic Ocean.
Blinken told NPR’s Leila Fadel the spy balloon was an “irresponsible act” on the part of China. Beijing claimed the balloon was used for meteorological research and accidentally drifted off course.
Blinken added his visit would be rescheduled once “China demonstrates that it wants to engage in a responsible manner.”
John Kirby, communications coordinator for the National Security Council, on Tuesday said three flying objects that later were shut down by the U.S. appear to not be linked to China.
“The intelligence community is considering as a leading explanation that these could just be balloons tied to some commercial or benign purpose,” Kirby told reporters.
Kirby on Monday emphasized that Blinken’s cancellation of the trip didn’t mean the two countries weren’t talking.
“We still have an embassy there,” Kirby said. “We still have an ability through Secretary Blinken’s good offices to communicate with senior Chinese leaders.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s Chinese counterpart, however, declined the Pentagon chief’s request for a phone call.
Meanwhile, key former officials from Donald Trump’s administration are set to receive briefings on the three spy balloons that flew over the U.S. during Trump’s time in office.
Former Trump national security adviser John Bolton told Politico he will “ask for all the details, top to bottom” during the briefing set to take place Wednesday afternoon at the Liberty Crossing Intelligence Campus in Virginia.