Top U.S., China Diplomats Weigh First Meeting Since Balloon Drama

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a joint news conference with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the State Department in Washington, U.S., February 8, 2023. 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is considering a meeting with top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi at the Munich Security Conference, in what would be their first face-to-face talks after the United States shot down flying objects, sources told Reuters.

Earlier this month, Blinken postponed a planned trip to Beijing due to what the United States said was the unacceptable violation of its sovereignty and airspace by a Chinese surveillance balloon later downed off the coast of South Carolina.

The balloon flight caused outrage in Washington, with politicians criticizing the U.S. military and U.S. President Joe Biden for failing to shoot it down when it first entered U.S. airspace.

But it has also raised questions about when the two countries, both eager to inject stability into turbulent relations, might next conduct high-level meetings.

One U.S. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity that a meeting between Blinken and Wang in Munich was possible. A second source familiar with U.S. plans also said it was possible but that nothing had been confirmed.

The State Department and China’s Embassy in Washington did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

China’s foreign ministry has reacted angrily to Washington’s spying allegations, saying the balloon was a civilian research craft and accusing the United States of hypocrisy.

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan noted last week that Blinken had postponed his visit to China, not canceled it or sworn off future high-level communication China.

One opportunity for a meeting is a security conference in Munich from Feb. 17-19, which both Blinken and Wang will attend.

Analysts have said Blinken also could meet with Chinese counterparts at the G20 foreign ministers meeting in India in March.

In recent days, the U.S. military has shot down four flying objects over North America, most recently on Sunday, when an octagonal object was downed over Lake Huron, the Pentagon said.

China said on Monday that U.S. high-altitude balloons had flown over its airspace without permission more than 10 times since the beginning of 2022. The White House denied the accusation.

GRAPHIC: Mysterious objects shot down by U.S. military –