How China Responded to the U.S. Shooting Down Spy Balloon: Timeline

China declined to speak with a key United States defense official after the military downed the suspected spy balloon that crossed into U.S. airspace last week, according to a new report.

After the balloon was shot down on Saturday, U.S. Defense Minister Lloyd Austin requested to speak with his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe, who refused the conversation, Politico reported Tuesday evening.

Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Pat Ryder told Politico that the U.S. remains committed to having open lines of communication with China amid heightened tensions, noting communication is "particularly important in moments like this."

The report offers the latest indication of how the balloon further strained already-tense relations between the United States and China, which have in recent months clashed over the Russia-Ukraine war and Taiwan's right to self-governance. After the U.S. shot down the balloon, Chinese authorities issued several statements condemning the decision.

Here is a day-by-day overview of how China responded to the United States downing the balloon.

Chinese President XI Jinping
Pictured, Chinese President XI Jinping. Biden on Saturday ordered the U.S. military to shoot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon, and Chinese authorities and state media issued a number of statements condemning the move in the following days. Getty

Saturday, February 4

Biden ordered the military to down the balloon on Saturday, after it already crossed the United States, when it was over the Atlantic Ocean, to avoid harm to civilians on the ground. Prior to this, China insisted the aircraft was merely a civilian weather balloon that flew off course—a claim dismissed by U.S. intelligence.

The balloon was downed shortly after 2:30 p.m. ET, and Austin made the refused call to China "immediately" after, according to the Politico report, which offered a glimpse into the immediate reaction of Chinese authorities, as they remained quiet on the balloon later that day.

Sunday, February 5

On Sunday, hours after the balloon was shot down, China issued its first public remarks on the situation, threatening that it "reserves the right to take necessary measures to deal with similar situations."

"The Chinese side has clearly asked the U.S. side to properly handle the matter in a calm, professional and restrained manner. The spokesperson of the U.S. Department of Defense also noted that the balloon does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground," China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote in a statement.

The statement continued: "Under such circumstances, the U.S. use of force is a clear overreaction and a serious violation of international practice."

Later that day, Chinese state newspaper China Today accused the U.S. of using the balloon as an excuse to postpone Secretary of State Antony Blinken's trip to Beijing and of "hyping up" the balloon.

"China cherishes its relationship with the U.S., and its goodwill should be echoed with goodwill instead of such dirty tricks that seek to make the country a political football in the rancorous power struggle between the two U.S. parties," the editorial reads.

Monday, February 6

China continued to complain about the Biden administration's handling of the balloon on Monday. Xie Feng, China's foreign minister, confirmed that he filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Embassy over what he called the "U.S. attack on a Chinese civilian unmanned airship by military force."

"However, the United States turned a deaf ear and insisted on indiscriminate use of force against the civilian airship that was about to leave the United States airspace, obviously overreacted and seriously violated the spirit of international law and international practice," Xie said.

Tuesday, February 7

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning defended China's criticisms of the United States after a journalist questioned her on how the situation is different from when China shot down a foreign spy balloon in 2019.

Mao responded by saying China's balloon was "of civilian nature."

"Its unintended entry into U.S. airspace is entirely unexpected and caused by force majeure," she said, according to a transcript of the press conference. "It didn't pose any threat to any person or to the national security of the U.S."

China believes the United States had an "overreaction" and should have handled it without the use of force, Mao said.

Newsweek reached out to the Department of Defense for comment.