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The balloon thing is a bad sign for US-China relations


Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a meeting with President Xi because of a Chinese surveillance balloon in US airspace.
If you want a sense of how fraught US-China relations are, consider this: a balloon just derailed a diplomatic summit.
Okay, not just any balloon — a surveillance balloon that belongs to the People’s Republic of China, and is currently drifting through US airspace. Its presence has led to Secretary of State Antony Blinken indefinitely postponing a planned meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The Chinese government has confirmed the balloon is theirs, though it claims it’s “mainly civilian” and studying the weather. The wind, China says, blew the balloon off course, which sounds like a thing that happens to balloons, except, these must have been very specific winds that just happened to carry the balloon over some “sensitive sites,” as the Pentagon put it. Specifically, the balloon was spotted in Montana, which is home to one of three nuclear missile silo fields. The Pentagon has also said the balloon is “maneuverable.”
Which is why the US apparently rejects China’s innocent explanation and has called the presence of the balloon in US airspace “a clear violation of our sovereignty, as well as international law, and it is unacceptable that this has occurred.”
The US also nixed this highly anticipated meeting between Blinken and Xi in Beijing, a sign of just how fragile the relationship between Beijing and Washington is right now. There have been spy balloons before, and there are more stealth ways to surveil and spy — which everyone, the US included, is doing. But this one slow-moving setback has derailed even the most basic efforts at dialogue. Add to that the US political jockeying over the Biden administration’s China policy, and of course, this balloon thing would, well, blow up.

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