Blinken Postpones China Trip After Outrage Over Spy Balloon Handling

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has postponed a planned visit to China amid a wave of outrage over a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon spotted over American airspace this week.

Blinken was scheduled to visit Beijing next week to meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, and potentially Chinese President Xi Jinping, CNBC reported. Bloomberg, citing two unnamed officials, reported on Friday that officials decided that going forward with the trip now would send the wrong signal in the wake of the balloon's detection.

A State Department spokesperson confirmed to Newsweek on Friday afternoon that the visit was postponed.

In a background call with reporters, an unnamed senior State Department official said that they concluded "the conditions are not right at this moment for Secretary Blinken to travel to China" following consultations with Congress and interagency partners.

Blinken Postpones Trip
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press conference on January 30 in Jerusalem, Israel. Blinken has reportedly postponed a planned visit to China amid a wave of outrage over a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon spotted over American airspace. Amir Levy/Getty Images

"We are committed to maintaining open lines with the PRC [People's Republic of China], at all times, including during this incident," the official said. "The Secretary conveyed to the Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Office, Wang Yi, earlier this morning that the trip would need to be postponed."

Blinked indicated that he would plan to visit China "at the earliest opportunity when conditions allow," the official added.

President Joe Biden has faced a wave of criticism over his handling of the situation with the balloon. After consulting with top military officials, Biden decided against shooting down the balloon to avert any safety risks for people on the ground, a senior administration official told Newsweek on Thursday.

Several Republican lawmakers, including Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, and Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, took to Twitter on Thursday calling on the president to shoot the balloon down.

Blackburn asked why Biden hadn't downed the balloon, calling the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) a "threat to our existence."

"Biden should shoot down the Chinese spy balloon immediately," Greene tweeted. "President Trump would have never tolerated this. President Trump would have never tolerated many things happening to America."

Former President Donald Trump weighed in on the situation as well.

"SHOOT DOWN THE BALLOON!" he wrote in a post on Truth Social.

Though Biden opted not to shoot the balloon down, the president "acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information," the senior administration official said.

"Currently, this balloon has limited value from an intelligence collection perspective," the official added. "We are taking all necessary steps to protect against foreign intelligence collection of sensitive information."

China's foreign ministry offered an explanation on Friday for the presence of the balloon in American airspace. It said the balloon was a civilian research "airship" primarily used for gathering weather data, but strong winds and the balloon's limited steering abilities caused it to deviate "far from its planned course."

"The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure," the ministry said in a statement, using a term that refers to an event beyond the control of the involved parties.

The ministry added that China will continue to communicate with the United States and "properly handle this unexpected situation."

Update 2/3/23, 3:33 p.m. ET: This article has been updated with additional information.