China’s surveillance program has been ‘exposed to the world,’ says top U.S. diplomat


The top diplomats from the United States and China met on Saturday in the first high-level contact between their countries since the U.S. shot down an alleged Chinese spy balloon two weeks ago, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken sending the message that Beijing’s surveillance program had been “exposed to the world.”

Blinken and Wang Yi, the Chinese Communist Party’s most senior foreign policy official, held the talks in Munich, where they were attending an international security conference, according to the U.S. State Department.

“I condemned the incursion of the PRC surveillance balloon and stressed it must never happen again,” Blinken said in a tweet, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

His spokesperson, Ned Price, said in a statement that 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 has intruded into the airspace of over 40 countries across five continents — has been exposed to the world,” Price said.

U.S. ‘not looking for a new Cold War’: official

Blinken had cancelled a trip to Beijing earlier this month due to the balloon incident, which has become a major issue of contention between the two countries. A meeting at the conference in Germany had been widely anticipated.

He also told Wang that the U.S. does not seek conflict with China, repeating a standard talking point that the Biden administration has provided since it has come into office.

An object, suspected to be a spy balloon, is seen in the sky.
The suspected Chinese spy balloon drifts to the ocean after being shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4. Blinken had cancelled a trip to Beijing earlier this month due to the balloon incident, which has become a major issue of contention between the U.S. and China. (Randall Hill/Reuters)

“The United States will compete and will unapologetically stand up for our values and interests, but that we do not want conflict with the PRC and are not looking for a new Cold War,” Price said. Blinken “underscored the importance of maintaining diplomatic dialogue and open lines of communication at all times.”

In addition to the balloon incident, Price said Blinken had reiterated a warning to China on providing assistance to Russia to help with its war against Ukraine, including assisting Moscow with evading sanctions the West has imposed on Russia.

LISTEN | What we know about the airborne objects floating over North America: 

Front Burner19:21What, exactly, is getting shot out of the skies?

It all started two weeks ago with a suspected Chinese spy balloon, which carried a payload about the size of three buses. A U.S. fighter jet shot it down after it floated across the continent. Then, the U.S shot down a second object: something airborne over Alaska that the U.S. said was likely not a balloon at all. And now, there’s been a third and a fourth object taken down above North America this month, in these cases over Yukon and Lake Huron. Today, Dan Lamothe explains the knowns and unknowns about these objects and what could be driving the decisions to shoot them down. Lamothe covers the Pentagon and U.S. Military for The Washington Post.

China insists balloon used for weather research

Earlier Saturday, Wang had renewed Beijing’s criticism of the U.S. for shooting down what Washington says was a Chinese spy balloon, arguing that the move did not point to U.S. strength.

Beijing insists the white orb shot down off the Carolina coast on Feb. 4 was just an errant civilian airship used mainly for meteorological research that went off course due to winds and had only limited “self-steering” capabilities.

A man points towards the crowd before him while speaking during a conference.
Wang Yi, China’s director of the Office of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission, speaks at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday. ‘The actions don’t show that the U.S. is big and strong, but describe the exact opposite,’ he said of Washington’s decision to shoot down the balloon. (Petr David Josek/The Associated Press)

Wang, the director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, repeated that insistence in a speech at the conference and accused the U.S. of violating international legal norms in destroying the object with a missile fired from an U.S. fighter jet.

“The actions don’t show that the U.S. is big and strong, but describe the exact opposite,” he said.

Wang also accused the U.S. of denying China’s economic advances and seeking to impede its further development. 

“What we hope for from the U.S. is a pragmatic and positive approach to China that allows us to work together,” he said. 

WATCH | President Joe Biden says spy balloons are part of a larger Chinese fleet: 

U.S. believes suspect balloon was part of larger Chinese fleet

The Biden administration says the suspected Chinese spy balloon that was shot down was part of a fleet being flown around the world. Officials faced questions from Republicans at two hearings over why the balloon wasn’t taken down sooner.

His comments came shortly before an address to the conference by U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris, who didn’t mention the balloon controversy or respond to Wang’s comments. She stressed the importance of upholding the “international rules-based order.”

Harris said Washington is “troubled that Beijing has deepened its relationship with Moscow since the war began” in Ukraine and that “looking ahead, any steps by China to provide lethal support to Russia would only reward aggression, continue the killing and further undermine a rules-based order.”