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19 Feb, 2023 01:57

China says balloon hysteria shows US weakness

Beijing's top diplomat suggested Washington would do better to focus on internal issues
China says balloon hysteria shows US weakness

The US reaction to a Chinese high-altitude balloon that floated across the country, and the much-hyped shootdown of three other unidentified flying objects, was “absurd and hysterical,” China’s highest ranked diplomat, Wang Yi, told the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.

“It does not show that America is strong, on the contrary it shows the opposite,” said the former foreign minister, who was recently promoted to direct the nation’s foreign policy in the 24-member Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party.

The US launched a major hunt for UFOs after the February 4 downing of what it claimed to be a Chinese surveillance craft sent to spy on military sites and other sensitive locations. Beijing has repeatedly denied the allegations, insisting the balloon was a civilian weather device that had been blown off course by accident.

“Across the globe there are many balloons in the sky, from different countries. Do you want to down each and every one of them?” Wang asked. Washington itself has flown high-altitude balloons over Chinese airspace at least 10 times since May 2022, Beijing claimed last week.

The balloon incident deepened the diplomatic rift and derailed the US State Secretary’s rare visit to Beijing, but on Saturday, Antony Blinken confronted Wang on the sidelines of the Munich conference to make it “clear the United States will not stand for any violation of our sovereignty.” He also lectured his Chinese counterpart on the Ukraine conflict, North Korean missile tests and Taiwan, as well as Washington's “values and interests,” according to a brief readout.

It was not immediately clear what Wang told Blinken in private, but in a public speech he urged Washington to “rectify” its misguided approach to China-US relations and stop trying to divert attention from its domestic problems” by blowing such “preposterous things” out of proportion.

The Chinese diplomat did not specify the domestic problems the US should rather focus on, but he had previously suggested that Washington was trying to deflect people’s attention from a toxic train incident in Ohio, which happened just one day before the Pentagon sent an F-22 fighter jet to destroy the airship after tracking it idly for over a week.

Earlier this week, Wang also noted how US media headlines had been dominated by UFO encounters in the days after a bombshell report by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh about a covert US operation to blow up Russian Nord Stream gas pipelines.

The US has managed to recover the debris of the Chinese balloon for further study, but the search for the remaining three downed UFOs was called off on Saturday, with no debris found. US officials admitted there were no grounds to suggest they were surveillance craft from China or any other country, while a group of hobbyists from Illinois reported one of its small “pico” balloons “missing in action.”