The Chinese spy balloon may have been shot down, but the diplomatic temperature remained high on Sunday as officials in Beijing blasted the US decision to shoot it down.
Tan Kefei, a spokesperson for China’s Defense Ministry, said in a statement Sunday that his country reserved “the right to use necessary means to deal with similar situations,” calling it a “clear overreaction.” China’s Foreign Ministry, in a similarly strong statement, called it a “serious violation of international customary practise.”
The balloon was described as a “civilian unmanned airship” in both statements, and China had previously stated that the orb was used for research and “meteorological purposes.”
On Saturday afternoon, an American F-22 Raptor shot down a “high-altitude surveillance balloon” with a single missile off the coast of South Carolina. The US military will now concentrate on salvaging parts of the ship from a 7-nautical-mile-long debris field.
The massive white orb, about the size of three school buses, was first spotted over Montana, which is home to Malmstrom Air Force Base, one of America’s three nuclear missile silo fields. It then headed southeastward over Kansas and Missouri at around 60,000 to 65,000 feet.
President Joe Biden told reporters shortly after the strike that he gave the order to shoot it down after being briefed about it on Wednesday, but that the Pentagon “decided that the best time to do that was when it got over water.”
While the Chinese suggestions for further action were “ominous,” David Sacks, a research fellow in US-China diplomacy at the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations, said he doubted it had changed much in the two countries’ relations.
“They’ll issue a statement with a little bluster in it, but I don’t think China will respond in any way,” he said, adding that escalating the issue would be counterproductive for China.
Beijing would not have wanted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone his visit to China, which was set to begin Monday, according to Sacks.
Blinken said in a phone call on Friday that sending the balloon over the US was “an irresponsible act” that was “detrimental to the substantive discussions that we were prepared to have.” His trip to China would have been the first by a Secretary of State from the United States since 2018.
Some Chinese social media users mocked the United States’ decision to shoot down the balloon, while others expressed outrage. Some hawkish news outlets slammed the move, and the state-run Global Times newspaper called it a “obvious overreaction.”
Several commentators questioned the decision, including Jin Canrong, a Sino-US relations expert at Beijing’s Renmin University of China, who questioned the decision to postpone Blinken’s visit.
He stated in a post on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo that there was opposition to the trip within the United States, particularly from Republican lawmakers.
“It should be said that Blinken’s visit to China is not a bad thing,” he said, adding that the US always liked to “create a little bargaining chip for themselves” before high-level meetings “to force the Chinese side to give in.”
“This isn’t working. “The Chinese side has long given up on this,” he added.
Rescheduling the trip could be difficult for the Biden administration “until China provides a more convincing and fulsome explanation regarding these latest espionage allegations,” Craig Singleton, a senior China fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C., said Saturday before the balloon was shot down.
“Expectations for Blinken’s trip were generally low, and at this point, a meaningful reset between the two superpowers appears all but off the table,” he said.