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China's balloon incursion ‘must never happen again', says US

(Petr David Josek/AP)
Karl Ritter and Matthew Lee, Associated Press

Top diplomats from the US and China have met in the first high-level contact between the two countries since the US shot down an alleged Chinese spy balloon two weeks ago.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Wang Yi, the Chinese Communist Party’s most senior foreign policy official, held the hour-long talks in Munich, where they were attending an international security conference, according to the US State Department.

“I made very clear to him that China sending its surveillance balloon over the United States in violation of our sovereignty, in violation of international law, was unacceptable and must never happen again,” Mr Blinken said on Saturday in an interview for CBS’ Face the Nation.

His spokesman, Ned Price, said in a statement that Mr Blinken also told the Chinese official that his nation’s “high-altitude surveillance balloon programme — which has intruded into the airspace of over 40 countries across five continents — has been exposed to the world”.

Mr Blinken had cancelled a trip to Beijing earlier this month due to the balloon incident, which has become a major issue of contention between the two countries. A meeting at the conference in Germany had been widely anticipated.

Mr Blinken also told Mr Wang that the US does not seek conflict with China, repeating a standard talking point that the Biden administration has provided since it has come into office.

“The United States will compete and will unapologetically stand up for our values and interests, but that we do not want conflict with the PRC (People’s Republic of China) and are not looking for a new Cold War,” Mr Price said, adding Mr Blinken “underscored the importance of maintaining diplomatic dialogue and open lines of communication at all times”.

In addition to the balloon incident, Mr Price said Mr Blinken had reiterated a warning to China on providing assistance to Russia to help with its war against Ukraine, including assisting Moscow with evading sanctions the West has imposed on Russia.

“I warned China against providing materiel support to Russia,” Mr Blinken said in a tweet. “I also emphasized the importance of keeping open lines of communication.”

Aerial Objects Explainer
Beijing insists the white orb shot down off the Carolina coast on February 4 was just an errant civilian airship (Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via AP, File)

Earlier on Saturday, Mr Wang had renewed Beijing’s criticism of the United States for shooting down the balloon, arguing that the move did not point to US strength.

Beijing insists the white orb shot down off the Carolina coast on February 4 was just an errant civilian airship used mainly for meteorological research that went off course due to winds and had only limited “self-steering” capabilities.

Mr Wang, the director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, repeated that insistence in a speech at the conference and accused the US of violating international legal norms in destroying the object with a missile fired from a US fighter jet.

“The actions don’t show that the US is big and strong, but describe the exact opposite,” Mr Wang said.

He also accused the US of denying China’s economic advances and seeking to impede its further development.

“What we hope for from the US is a pragmatic and positive approach to China that allows us to work together,” he said.

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