The spectacle of the Chinese balloon drifting over the United States last week caused political outrage in Washington and brought into sharp focus the challenge posed by China to the United States and its allies.
It prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel a trip to Beijing that both countries had hoped would patch up frayed relations. Blinken would have arrived in Beijing Sunday.
Instead, Thursday’s slew of briefings and hearings highlighted the political pressure that President Joe Biden’s administration remained under to address the incident.
Democratic and Republican US lawmakers sharply criticised the US military and the Biden administration for failing to shoot down the balloon when it first entered US airspace, and instead waiting a week to do so. The House of Representatives voted 419-0 for a resolution condemning China for the balloon incursion.
US lawmakers have demanded more information from the Biden administration about the incident.
“I hate to disappoint you. We haven’t learned anything more than what everyone always knew,” Senator Bob Menendez, the Democratic chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said after emerging from a classified briefing given by administration officials on the balloon on Thursday.
The US Air Force downed the balloon off South Carolina on Saturday, a week after it entered US airspace. China’s foreign ministry has said it was a weather balloon that had blown off course and accused the United States of overreacting.
On Monday, the United States briefed 150 foreign diplomats in Washington and sent information to its missions around the world to share details about the balloon incident.
On Thursday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning dismissed US charges that the balloon was part of a worldwide spying fleet, saying that allegation could be part of a “US information war against China.”