U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has indefinitely delayed a planned trip to China this weekend, with an official citing a “violation of our sovereignty” after a Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon was detected flying over the state of Montana.
A senior State Department official said Friday that the presence of the Chinese balloon in U.S. airspace was “a clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law” and that, therefore, “the conditions are not right at this moment for Secretary Blinken to travel to China.”
The official told reporters in a briefing by phone that it was “our clear assessment was that under these current conditions, it wouldn’t be constructive to visit Beijing at this time.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the State Department.
Blinken had been scheduled to depart on Friday evening, the official said. But he added that the trip was not being canceled.
“This is a postponement, and the secretary plans to travel at the earliest appropriate opportunity when conditions allow,” he said, declining to specify what those conditions would be. “We will assess and we will determine when the conditions are right.”
In a statement earlier on Friday, China’s foreign ministry acknowledged that the balloon was from China, but said it had “deviated far from its planned course” due to wind currents.
“It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes,” it said. “The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into U.S. airspace due to force majeure. The Chinese side will continue communicating with the U.S. side and properly handle this unexpected situation caused by force majeure.”
The Pentagon said Thursday that the balloon had been hovering over the United States for several days.