US President Joe Biden has defended the launch of a suspected Chinese spy balloon - but at the same time tried to de-escalate it. However, China reacted coolly to an offer of talks from Washington.
"The US cannot ask for communication and dialogue while stoking tensions and escalating the crisis," Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said in Beijing on Friday. Previously, Biden had declared: "I do not apologize for the downing of this balloon." At the same time, he expects to speak to China's head of state and party leader Xi Jinping. Biden also said that three other objects shot down do not appear to have come from China.
Biden stressed that launching the balloon was necessary to send a clear message to Beijing. China has violated the sovereignty of the United States. That is unacceptable. The US did not seek conflict and did not want a new Cold War, Biden said. "Our diplomats will remain engaged and I will keep in touch with President Xi." The Chinese ministry spokesman only said that he had no information on a possible conversation between Biden and Xi Jinping.
Conversation at the Munich Security Conference?
There is speculation that there could be talks between US Vice President Kamala Harris or Foreign Minister Antony Blinken and China's most important foreign politician Wang Yi on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference at the weekend. The ministry spokesman in China was also asked about this meeting. He only said that he had nothing to announce.
The US accuses Beijing that the balloon was part of a fleet of spy balloons that China used to spy on more than 40 countries on five continents. Beijing also rejects this.
Almost two weeks ago, the US military shot down a suspected spy balloon over the Atlantic off the coast of the state of South Carolina. The United States accuses China of wanting to spy on military installations. Beijing, on the other hand, speaks of a civilian research balloon that has gone off course. The incident caused additional tension in the already strained relationship.
Investigations are ongoing
On Friday, the US military said the balloon's salvage was complete. The debris would now be examined by the FBI's counterintelligence agency.
Shortly after launching the balloon, the military took down three more mysterious flying objects - one over Alaska, one over Canada and one over Lake Huron in the northern United States. Since then there has been speculation about the origin and purpose of the flying objects.
Biden now made it clear that the three objects were probably not connected to "China's spy balloon program". There is also nothing to suggest that they were traveling for espionage purposes on behalf of another country. According to the intelligence services, they most likely belonged to private companies or research institutions and had been on the road for research purposes.
After the shooting, Biden found himself in need of an explanation. The debris from the three objects has still not been recovered. Democrat and Republican politicians had called for more transparency. It was the first time that Biden had specifically scheduled an appearance on the subject. The Democrat stressed that there was "no evidence of a sudden increase in the number of objects in the sky." However, the radars were so sensitized that more objects became visible. The US government justified the shooting down with a danger to air traffic.
As a consequence, Biden announced stricter rules to monitor and, if necessary, shoot down unknown flying objects in US airspace. He commissioned National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan to develop a concept. "If any object poses a threat to the safety of the US public, I will shoot it down."