Biden Says Spy Balloon Raises Questions About Where US Can Still Work With China

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
February 7, 2023Politics
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Biden Says Spy Balloon Raises Questions About Where US Can Still Work With China
President Joe Biden walks on the South Lawn after returning to the White House on Marine One in Washington on Feb. 6, 2023. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden said China’s decision to fly a high-altitude balloon over the United States raises a question of where we can still work with China and where the two countries will be opposed.

U.S. Air Force fighter jets shot the balloon down off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday after it had flown across much of the United States. The Chinese Foreign Ministry condemned the U.S. decision to shoot down the balloon, insisting it had been “a civilian airship used for meteorological and other research purposes” and had simply strayed off course by the weather and had limited self-steering capability to avoid crossing over U.S. airspace.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said China has continued to develop its spy balloons and expand what he called a “military capability.” U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said the People’s Republic of China knows precisely what the balloon was doing over the United States.

As Biden arrived at the White House on Monday, NTD News reporter Iris Tao asked him whether the United States could trust China’s claims about the balloon and whether that affects U.S. trust toward China in other areas.

“The question of the balloon and attempting to spy on the United States is something that’s anticipated from China,” Biden began. “The question is whether or not—when we asked China what they’re doing, they didn’t deny they had the balloon over—they just denied what it was.

After the balloon incident, Biden left behind the question of whether the United States can trust China, and said he’s instead facing the question of when the two countries can work together and when and where they will be in opposition.

“It’s not a question of trusting China, it’s a question of deciding where we should work together and where we have opposition,” Biden said.

Throughout his administration, Biden has talked about pushing back on China in certain respects, while finding other areas where the countries can cooperate.

“We cannot and must not return to the reflexive opposition and rigid blocs of the Cold War,” Biden said in an address near the start of his administration. “Competition must not lock out cooperation on issues that affect us all.  For example, we must cooperate if we’re going to defeat COVID-19 everywhere.”

Biden did not elaborate on how the spy balloon may have changed the question, in his mind, of when and where the United States and China will still be able to cooperate.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a planned trip to China over the balloon incident.

Biden told another reporter on Monday that his decision to shoot down the balloon had not further strained U.S.-China relations.

“We’ve made it clear to China what we’re going to do. They understand our position,” Biden said. “We’re not going to back off. We did the right thing. And there’s not a question of weakening or strengthening; it’s just the reality.”

The Chinese balloon incident came just days before Biden will speak to the American public about his record during the State of the Union Address.

Republican Criticism

Several Republican lawmakers have criticized Biden’s decision to wait before shooting down the balloon.

Biden has insisted he wanted to shoot the balloon down earlier on, but was advised against it for fear that it could fall over a populated area.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell questioned Biden’s alleged concerns about endangering civilians.

“It defies belief to suggest there was nowhere between the Aleutian Islands of Alaska and the coast of Carolina where this balloon could have been shot down right away without endangering Americans or Canadians,” McConnell said in a statement Monday. “This was a reminder of the PRC’s brazenness and President Biden missed the opportunity to defend our sovereignty, send a message of strength, and bolster deterrence.”

Democratic Defense

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) lauded Biden for waiting to shoot down the balloon until it was safely over the water because it avoided potentially endangering civilians and allowed the United States to recover less-damaged materials from the downed Chinese balloon.

“The bottom line here is that shooting down the balloon over water wasn’t just the safest option, but it was the one that maximized our intel gain,” Schumer said.

Democrats also pointed to claims that China flew spy balloons over the United States during Republican President Donald Trump’s administration.

A senior defense official said on Saturday that Chinese spy balloons passed over the U.S. “at least three times” during the Trump administration. Trump and former members of his administration have since refuted those claims.

Iris Tao contributed to this article.

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