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China Relations: Blinken Meets With China’s Top Diplomat Amid Strained Ties, Spy Balloon Incidents

The State Department has remained adamant that the Chinese surveillance balloon, which was shot down on Feb. 4, was a violation of U.S. sovereignty and “was unacceptable and can never happen again.”

Over the weekend, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to various news outlets from Germany, where he had been attending the Munich Security Conference, about talks with China. On Saturday, he met with Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat, in the first face-to-face meeting since the balloon incident.

“I can’t speak to their original intent, but what I can tell you is this: once over the United States, the balloon attempted to surveil very critical important military installations. We protected the sensitive information that it was trying to surveil,” Blinken told ABC News’ Martha Raddatz on “This Week,” in an interview taped Saturday.

Wang has publicly stated that the U.S. response to the balloon, which China claims was a weather airship that blew off course, was “unimaginable,” “hysterical” and “absurd,” and an effort to divert attention from domestic problems.

Blinken, who noted that there was no apology from China about the balloon, said “more than 40 countries have had these balloons go over their territory” and added that the program has been around for “a few years.” He said that allies appreciated that the balloon program was exposed by U.S. officials. CNN recently reviewed a U.S. intelligence report from April 2022 that a Chinese spy balloon in 2019 had “drifted past Hawaii and across Florida” as it “circumnavigated the globe.”

Tensions have run high between the U.S. and China in recent years. In January 2018, the Trump administration set tariffs and other trade barriers on China to counter unfair trade practices and intellectual property theft. The Biden administration has kept the tariffs in place, while also imposing export controls and visa limits.

The Biden administration in May 2022 pledged to defend Taiwan if China attacked, and in August 2022, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s visited the island. Meanwhile, the U.S. has condemned China’s mass detention and crackdown on religious and ethnic minorities.

The deteriorating relations have spilled over into Russia’s war with Ukraine. The U.S., along with NATO and EU members, has committed more than $13 billion worth of military assistance to Ukraine as the country defends itself against Russian aggression. Blinken warned of the “implications and consequences” if China supplied Moscow with lethal aid.

In an interview this weekend with Margaret Brennan on CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” Blinken said that he and Wang “also had an opportunity to talk about what’s happening here in Munich, the focus of the conversation — Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and concerns that we have that China’s considering providing lethal support to Russia in its efforts in Ukraine. And I was able to share with him, as President Biden had shared with President Xi, the serious consequences that would have for our relationship.”

Blinken added that the U.S. would continue to emphasize to China the importance of open lines of communication and direct diplomacy.