Chinese Spy Balloon: Cancellation of Blinken's Beijing Trip Strains US-China Relations | International

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Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and his US counterpart Joe Biden at the G-20 summit in Bali on November 14.SAUL LOEB (AFP)

The visit to China of the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, scheduled for this Sunday and Monday, finally will not happen. It was expected to be an endurance test for the bridges built between Beijing and Washington in recent months. But the incident of an alleged Chinese spy balloon over US territory detected by the Pentagon has ruined the meeting. The explanations of Beijing have not been valid for Washington, which has regretted the facts and assured that it was an environmental research aircraft diverted from its route by the winds.

US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in Bali, Indonesia in November and then publicly formalized something resembling a dramatic pause in the geopolitical theater. Blinken's trip meant the following temperature rise: he was going to be the first by a US Secretary of State since 2018 and reflected the intention of directing the relations of the two great powers on the planet. Both accumulate under their arm a vast collection of disputes, mistrust and mutual reproaches ranging from trade sanctions and technological warfare to the Russian invasion of Ukraine (which China has not condemned) and tensions around Taiwan. The balloon has immediately become one more altercation to add to the list.

The incident was disclosed late on Thursday, a few days before Blinken set out on his journey. Beijing has confirmed this Friday that the airship comes from China. "This is a civil aircraft used for research purposes, mainly meteorological," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The device would have been affected by the west winds and, given its "limited self-steering" capacity, it would have deviated "a lot" from its expected course. "The Chinese side regrets the involuntary entry of the aircraft into US airspace due to force majeure," says the statement, which calls for further communication with Washington. As of late in the evening, Beijing had not commented on the cancellation by the United States.

Relations between the two powers hit a low in August after Democrat Nancy Pelosi, then Speaker of the House of Representatives, visited Taiwan, the self-governing island that Beijing claims as its own and to which the United States gives military support. China, enraged, responded with military maneuvers in the waters of the Straits and the rupture of cooperation with Washington on issues such as the environment and defense.

In Bali three months later, Xi and Biden managed to turn the tide by taking advantage of a G-20 summit. It was the first time they had been cited as leaders since Biden came to the White House. The American assured: "I firmly believe that there does not have to be another Cold War" and his Asian counterpart showed his intention to change the "course" and place bilateral relations on an "upward trajectory".

Blinken's visit was agreed upon at that Balinese meeting as a formula to “follow up” the conversations. Since then, the dialogue on climate change has resumed and high-level contacts have taken place. In December, two senior White House officials visited China to discuss sensitive issues (Taiwan) and lay the foundations for the imminent visit of the Secretary of State. In January, with China already reopening to the world after the sudden change in its anti-pandemic policy, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He and US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen met at the Davos forum.

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The cancellation is yet another example of the level of mistrust that surrounds relations between Beijing and Washington. William Klein, an advisory partner at FGS Global, who has worked as a US diplomat for more than two decades, with a focus on China, explained (prior to the incident) that after Pelosi's visit to Taiwan, both sides clearly understood that they had to do something else to avoid a confrontation. The objective for Beijing and Washington was, according to this analyst, "to use this visit and this type of high-level communication to try to contain competition and mistrust, put up guardrails to avoid descending into a conflict that neither party wants" , according to what he told on Thursday in an online meeting with foreign correspondents. I did not expect too concrete results or big announcements, but rather a meeting to reaffirm each side's position, mark their “red lines”, highlight “where they think the other party is challenging these red lines” and make clear each side's motives for prevent the other party from “misreading the intentions”.

Beijing had tried to show a climate of understanding these days. He People's Daily, the official propaganda organ of the Communist Party, claimed in a recent editorial that the United States and China must find a common landing zone for their conflicts, following in the wake of the Balinese thaw, in order to embark on a path of global economic recovery. The article called for "responsibility to history" and "a tone of dialogue rather than confrontation." But it also demanded that Washington "abandon the obsession with treating China as a supposed strategic competitor", which has caused "a stagnation of relations" and "has brought instability to world peace and development". He also recalled the very red lines with respect to Taiwan: that in no case should its independence be supported.

The situation is further from being straightened out today, and looking back briefly reflects the minefield relationships have become. Globe aside, on Friday, January 27, for example, Japan and the Netherlands agreed with the United States to begin restricting exports of chip-making equipment to China, adding to the efforts of the Biden Administration to curb the development of advanced weapons by part of Beijing Only a day later, the content of a report prepared by an American general was known, assuring that, according to his "intuition", there will be a war between the two superpowers in 2025 (the Pentagon denies that this opinion reflects the official one).

This Thursday, the US Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, on an official trip to the Philippines, closed an agreement with Manila to expand US military access to four new bases, thus reinforcing ties with a country whose center of gravity had tilted towards Beijing in recent years. China reacted immediately denouncing that the US military deployment in Asia-Pacific responds to "selfish interests" and "would increase tensions and endanger peace and stability in the region," the foreign spokeswoman replied on Thursday.

The government spokesperson also attacked the recent visit to South Korea and Japan by the NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, in which, in his words, "he did not stop referring to China and exaggerating the so-called 'China threat', drawing ideological lines and sowing discord between the countries of the region”, something that Beijing considers “quite alarming”. "NATO must reflect on itself about the role it has played in European security," the spokeswoman added. "We have seen what NATO has done to Europe, and NATO must not try to wreak havoc here in the Asia-Pacific or anywhere else in the world."

On Monday, in Seoul, Stoltenberg reiterated the reasons why, at the June summit in Madrid, the Alliance included China for the first time in its Strategic Concept, the document that guides the organization: "China, with their growing capabilities, their coercive behavior, especially in the South China Sea, and their lack of respect for the values ​​in which we believe, is a growing challenge to our values, our security and our interests," he stressed in a meeting with academics Joining Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Tuesday, he added: “What is happening in Europe today could happen in East Asia tomorrow. So we must remain united and firm.”

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