The Biden administration knew about the Chinese spy balloon sailing over the U.S. earlier than when it became widely known but kept quiet so as to not disrupt Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to China, according to a Friday report.
Bloomberg News reported that U.S. officials were “well aware” that the balloon had crossed into American airspace on January 28 and that it was over Idaho on Tuesday, but decided to not inform the public to not upend Blinken’s diplomatic trip to China.
White House officials who spoke with Bloomberg told the outlet that they knew the balloon was over Montana on Wednesday, and that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley told President Joe Biden that shooting down the balloon could pose a threat to civilians.
The report added that the White House wanted to be careful because relations with China could be a big issue in the 2024 elections and that it was “baffled” by China’s claim to not know what was going on with the balloon.
Bloomberg noted that the Biden administration only decided to inform the public after the Billings Gazette published a picture of the balloon, which “forced Biden’s hand.”
In the end, Biden’s efforts to conceal information about the balloon to save Blinken’s China trip failed. On Friday, Blinken said his team concluded “conditions were not conducive” for him to continue with a planned visit to China this weekend.
The secretary also said he conveyed it was an “irresponsible act and that the PRC’s decision to take this action on the eve of my planned visit is detrimental to the substantive discussions we were prepared to have.”
In addition, Blinken said he told his counterpart that the United States “remains committed to diplomatic engagement with China” and that he plans to visit Beijing in the future “when conditions allow.”
The balloon was spotted over North Carolina on Saturday morning as it appears to head toward the Atlantic Ocean. The balloon is believed to have sailed over parts of Tennessee last night before heading over Asheville and Charlotte, North Carolina, this morning.
Ben Zeisloft contributed to this report.