A balloon disrupted Blinken’s trip to China. It could be a good thing.

“This event definitely strengthens the hands of the United States,” said Heather McMahon, former senior director of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board. “Every time a spy operation comes to light, [it] gives the advantage to the targeted nation.

Blinken was preparing to see top officials in China on Sunday and Monday as a follow-up to President Joe Biden’s meeting with Chinese Supreme Leader Xi Jinping in Bali in November. At the time, Biden pledged to “keep lines of communication open” with Beijing amid heightened bilateral tensions.

The Pentagon’s Thursday announcement of a purported Chinese surveillance balloon flying over Montana changed that plan. In canceling Blinken’s trip, at least for now, the State Department said the incident “would have reduced the agenda in a way that would have been unnecessary and unconstructive.”

Beijing admitted on Friday that the balloon was Chinese, disproving its initial claims of ignorance, and said it was a civilian airship used primarily for weather purposes that had been blown into US airspace by aircraft. strong winds.

This admission and the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s rare expression of ‘regret’ for the incident in a statement on Friday suggest Beijing is in damage control mode as it tries to stabilize relations with the United States. .

The revelation “pushed China a little bit,” said Zack Cooper, a former assistant to the deputy national security adviser for counterterrorism at the National Security Council and now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

And that could give Blinken an edge in his efforts to press Beijing for meaningful results when he eventually visits China.

John Kamm, who has decades of experience negotiating with Chinese officials as the founder of the prisoners’ defense organization Dui Hua, said “this puts pressure on China to do something. as a sign of goodwill in response to what she has done”.

Much of Blinken’s planned two days with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang – and a possible meeting with Xi – would have been lost in ritual recitations of the respective positions of the United States and China on issues ranging from Taiwan and from trade tensions to concerns about Beijing’s human rights record, growing nuclear arsenal and alignment with Russia’s war on Ukraine.

In an interview before the ball was reported, David R. Stilwell, former assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said the meeting is unlikely to produce any movement on the one of those questions. “Beijing uses ‘talks’ to take the pressure off – without delivering anything big – and to humiliate the other side,” Stillwell said.

Still, some say Blinken could have taken the opportunity to make heavier demands in person.

“If Tony left now, Xi and the Chinese would be deeply embarrassed, grateful that he came, wanting to put this behind him,” Danny Russel said., a former senior Asia official in the Obama administration. The ball incident could have become “a teachable moment”, he said.

Delaying the trip risks the Chinese becoming more defensive over time and less inclined to meet, said Russel, who nevertheless stressed that he understood the Biden administration’s calculations.

The Chinese government has recently shifted to a softer diplomatic tone – an effort by Beijing to reduce US-China tensions as it grapples with a disastrous Covid outbreak and an economic downturn.

Blinken’s indefinite postponement of his trip to Beijing until “the conditions are right” has earned him measured praise from GOP lawmakers.

Delaying the trip is “a good choice for now,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, in a video that he tweeted friday.

Postponing the trip “is an appropriate step to underscore the seriousness” of the balloon intrusion, Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Ill.) said in a statement.

Blinken can now see if Beijing’s eagerness for even symbolic gestures of reduced bilateral rancor produces Chinese diplomatic sweeteners for a quick rescheduling of Blinken’s China travel plans.

But time may not be on Blinken’s side given China’s busy political calendar.

“The Chinese have their national legislative session in early March, and the Speaker of the House [Kevin] McCarthy is expected to be in Taiwan around Easter, so the trip may not happen until late spring, when the bilateral atmosphere will no doubt be even more difficult,” said Chris Johnson, president and CEO of China Strategies Group, a risk consulting firm.

Regardless of the short-term diplomatic fallout from the spy balloon and any short-term benefit Blinken might derive from it, the longer-term prospects for US-China relations remain bleak.

“Beijing hopes the talks will provide a time-out for bilateral friction that will allow it to focus on domestic issues; the United States wants China to agree to guardrails that allow relations to remain abrasive without getting too heated,” said Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center, “These goals are probably irreconcilable.”


Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.
Back to top button