Connect with us


A balloon upended Blinken’s trip to China. That could be a good thing.

“This event definitely strengthens the hands of the United States,” mentioned Heather McMahon, a former senior director on the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board. “Anytime an espionage operation is exposed, [it] gives the advantage to the targeted nation.”

Blinken was making ready to see high officers in China on Sunday and Monday in a follow-up to President Joe Biden’s assembly with Chinese paramount chief Xi Jinping in Bali in November. At the time, Biden pledged to “maintain open lines of communication” with Beijing amid worsening bilateral tensions.

The Pentagon’s announcement Thursday of an alleged Chinese surveillance balloon hovering over Montana modified that plan. In canceling Blinken’s trip, at the very least for now, the State Department mentioned the incident “would have narrowed the agenda in a way that would have been unhelpful and unconstructive.”

Beijing admitted Friday that the balloon was Chinese, reversing its initial claims of ignorance, and mentioned it was a civilian airship used primarily for meteorological functions that had been blown into U.S. airspace by excessive winds.

That admission and the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s uncommon expression of “regrets” for the incident in a statement published on Friday suggests Beijing is in injury management mode at a time when it’s attempting to stabilize ties with the U.S.

The revelation “has pushed China a little bit on the back foot,” mentioned Zack Cooper, former assistant to the deputy nationwide safety adviser for combating terrorism on the National Security Council and now a senior fellow on the American Enterprise Institute.

And that could give Blinken an edge in his efforts to prod Beijing to ship significant outcomes when he ultimately travels to China.

John Kamm, who has a long time of expertise negotiating with Chinese officers in his position as founding father of the Dui Hua prisoner advocacy group, mentioned “it puts pressure on China to do something as a goodwill gesture in response to what they’ve done.”

Much of Blinken’s deliberate two days with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang — and a possible meeting with Xi — would have been misplaced to ritual recitations of respective U.S.-China positions on points ranging from Taiwan and trade tensions to issues about Beijing’s human rights record, its growing nuclear arsenal and its alignment with Russia’s war on Ukraine.

In an interview earlier than the balloon was reported, David R. Stilwell, former assistant secretary of State for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, mentioned the assembly was unlikely to produce motion on any of these points. “Beijing uses ‘talks’ to reduce pressure — while giving nothing of significance — and to humiliate the other side,” Stillwell mentioned.

Still, some say Blinken could have seized the chance to make heavier calls for in particular person.

“If Tony went now, Xi and the Chinese would be deeply embarrassed, grateful that he came, wanting to put it behind him,” mentioned Danny Russel, a former senior Asia hand within the Obama administration. The balloon incident could have develop into “a teachable moment,” he mentioned.

Delaying the trip dangers the Chinese turning into extra defensive over time, and fewer inclined to come to a assembly of the minds, mentioned Russel, who nonetheless pressured that he understood the Biden administration’s calculations.

The Chinese authorities had just lately shifted to a softer diplomatic tone — an effort by Beijing to cut back U.S.-China tensions whereas it grapples with a disastrous Covid outbreak and an economic downturn.

Blinken’s indefinite postponement of his Beijing trip till “the conditions are right” has gained him measured reward from GOP lawmakers.

Delaying the trip is “a right call for now,” Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) chair of the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the U.S. and the Chinese Communist Party, mentioned in a video he tweeted on Friday.

The trip postponement “is an appropriate step to underscore the seriousness” of the balloon’s intrusion, Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Ill.) mentioned in a assertion.

Blinken can now see if Beijing’s eagerness for even symbolic gestures of decreased bilateral rancor produces Chinese diplomatic sweeteners for a fast rescheduling of Blinken’s China journey plans.

But time could not be on Blinken’s aspect given the crowded Chinese political calendar.

“The Chinese have their national legislative session in early March, and House Speaker [Kevin] McCarthy is projected to visit Taiwan around Easter, so the trip may not happen until the late spring, where the bilateral atmosphere arguably will be even more challenging,” mentioned Chris Johnson, president and chief govt of the China Strategies Group, a danger consultancy.

Regardless of the spy balloon’s short-term diplomatic fallout and the attainable short-term benefit Blinken could reap from it, the longer-term prospects for U.S.-China relations stay grim.

“Beijing is hoping talks provide a timeout from bilateral friction that allows it to focus on domestic issues; the U.S. wants China to agree to guardrails that allow relations to remain abrasive without getting too hot,” mentioned Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States on the Wilson Center. “Those goals are probably irreconcilable.”

Source link