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China stalls Antony Blinken’s Beijing visit over ‘spy balloon’ concerns

China is refusing to let US secretary of state Antony Blinken go to Beijing over considerations that the FBI will launch the outcomes of an investigation into the downed suspected Chinese language spy balloon.

4 individuals conversant in the negotiations mentioned China had advised the US it was not ready to reschedule a visit that Blinken cancelled in February whereas it stays unclear what the administration of President Joe Biden will do with the report.

The FBI has been analysing particles salvaged from the balloon because it was shot down in February. The US says the craft was spying on delicate army websites, however China say it was a climate balloon blown off beam by climate.

Chinese language officers are involved the Biden administration may launch the FBI report together with bodily proof from the balloon, and that its findings may very well be made public throughout Blinken’s journey to China.

China’s overseas minister Qin Gang raised the difficulty with People attending the China Improvement Discussion board in Beijing final month, mentioned three individuals conversant in the assembly.

Qin described the FBI investigation as one other instance of the problems which have made it troublesome to stabilise US-China ties, one of many individuals mentioned. US officers stress the disaster was sparked by China flying the balloon by way of the nation’s airspace.

The FBI and Nationwide Safety Council declined to say whether or not the investigation can be made public.

The difficulty has additionally sparked divisions contained in the Biden administration, with some officers eager to declassify the proof for public launch to indicate that the balloon was conducting surveillance. Congress can also be prone to press for the discharge of the FBI’s conclusions.

However others say releasing the knowledge would derail efforts to restart badly wanted high-level engagement between the international locations at a time when US-China relations are at their lowest stage for the reason that two international locations established diplomatic relations in 1979.

Blinken was supposed to fulfill President Xi Jinping in China in February however abruptly cancelled his journey due to the balloon.

Bonnie Glaser, a China skilled on the German Marshall Fund, mentioned Beijing’s stance mirrored its considerations about how the US would proceed to make use of the episode.

“Beijing is distrustful of US intent and worries the US will use the knowledge gleaned from the balloon investigation in methods dangerous to Chinese language pursuits,” Glaser mentioned.

Dennis Wilder, a former Asia adviser to George W Bush, mentioned there was a “good likelihood” Beijing wouldn’t give the inexperienced mild whereas uncertainty in regards to the FBI report remained.

“In some ways, we’re extra longing for this go to than they’re,” he mentioned. “They don’t have the motivation to make this go to occur rapidly. In that sense, for the Chinese language, the downsides of ready usually are not nice.”

China had additionally been reluctant to conform to a Blinken go to due to frustration that US lawmakers, together with Home Speaker Kevin McCarthy, met Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen this month, mentioned a number of individuals conversant in the scenario.

The Chinese language embassy in Washington mentioned Beijing was “firmly against the US repeatedly making use of the [balloon] incident for political functions and hyping up the ‘China risk’.”

Spokesperson Liu Pengyu mentioned China “can’t however severely query the independence, openness and transparency of the so-called investigation”. He mentioned each international locations had an obligation to “calmly and prudently deal with some surprising conditions” after Xi and Biden had agreed in regards to the significance of sustaining communications in any respect ranges.

Whereas the 2 sides fail to succeed in settlement a few Blinken go to, there was some engagement. Rick Waters, the highest state division China official, just lately visited Beijing and Cui Tiankai, a former Chinese language ambassador to the US, visited Washington.

In different areas, nonetheless, there was nearly no engagement. Michael Chase, the Pentagon’s prime China official, has been unable to fulfill his Chinese language counterpart in Washington since he visited Taiwan in February, in solely the second go to to the island by a senior defence official in 4 many years.

China “continues to say no requests for engagement with the secretary of defence, the chairman of the joint chiefs of workers, [Indo-Pacific commander] Admiral [John] Aquilino, and different senior division of defence officers,” mentioned Martin Meiners, a Pentagon spokesperson.

Requested by the Monetary Instances this week about his journey plans, Blinken mentioned it was “essential to take care of channels of communication” to China to ensure each side have been “talking to one another clearly”.

“In relation to my very own go to to China, when the situations are proper I’ll actually stay up for pursuing that,” the highest US diplomat added.

Observe Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter