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Chinese spy balloon fallout roils Washington and Beijing


WASHINGTON — In the wake of a U.S. missile attack Saturday that destroyed a Chinese surveillance ballon, political and diplomatic fallout ramped up Monday in both Beijing and Washington.

The decision to shoot down the balloon over the Carolina coast was “unacceptable and irresponsible,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said at a press conference in Beijing Monday.

The Chinese government insists the balloon that moved across the United States for the past week was “a civilian airship used for meteorological and other research purposes,” and not a spy balloon.

American officials dismiss this explanation, and say the high-altitude unmanned vessel was designed to collect military intelligence, not weather data.

The balloon’s presence over the United States prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to indefinitely postpone a diplomatic visit to Beijing that was to begin last Friday.

The balloon incident has strained the already fragile U.S.-China relationship, weakened in recent years by Beijing’s territorial expansion in the South China Sea and its aggressive effort to control Taiwan.

“The nascent US-China détente is now in critical condition, if not entirely dead, and any future détentes would be similarly vulnerable to derailment by domestic politics,” Gabriel Wildau, managing director at advisory firm Teneo, said in a note.

On Capitol Hill, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have demanded more transparency from the Biden administration on how and when the White House learned of the balloon, and why Biden waited a week to give the order to shoot it down.

In the coming week, Biden administration officials will deliver a classified briefing on the balloon to members of the so-called Gang of Eight, the Republican and Democratic leaders of both the House and Senate, and the top two members of the Senate and House Intelligence committees. 

A briefing for the rest of the Senate will take place the following week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced at a Sunday press conference.

Several congressional hearings on U.S.-China relations will also take place this week. The hearings were arranged before the balloon was discovered, but the incident is likely to change the tenor of the hearings and the questions posed to witnesses.

On Tuesday at 10 a.m., the House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing on “Combatting the Economic Threat from China.” 

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing Thursday morning entitled “Evaluating U.S.-China Policy In The Era of Strategic Competition.”

Source: CNBC