The Biden administration’s top envoy said China offered no apology this weekend for the suspected spy balloon that flew across a large expanse of the United States.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken shared the blunt assessment after meeting on Saturday with China’s head diplomat, Wang Yi, on the sidelines of the annual Munich Security Conference.
“I don’t want to characterize what he said. I don’t think that would be appropriate. Although I can tell you, no, there was no apology,” Blinken said during an interview on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” that aired Sunday.
The U.S. Air Force shot down the high-flying balloon off the coast of South Carolina a little more than two weeks ago, but not before the vessel transited a wide swath of the U.S. from Montana to the southeastern coast, including past sensitive military sites. U.S. officials said the military waited to down the balloon until it floated over the Atlantic Ocean because falling debris posed a threat to people below. They also said steps were taken to prevent China from gathering valuable intelligence.
Beijing claims the balloon was essentially a civilian weather balloon mainly blown off course, and accused the U.S. of overreacting with the shoot-down. In retaliation, the U.S. blacklisted six Chinese entities tied to Beijing’s military aerospace programs, after which China levied sanctions on two major U.S. defense contractors.
During an address on Thursday, President Joe Biden said he makes “no apologies” for shooting it down — it’s unclear who was asking him to apologize — though he insisted the U.S. is not seeking a “new Cold War” with China. Biden also said U.S. intelligence does not believe the three mysterious flying objects the U.S. military shot down over North America in the days that followed were part of any spying operations.
Echoing Biden’s stance on China, Blinken said he told his Chinese counterpart the balloon episode was “unacceptable and can never happen again.”
The U.S. military completed its salvage operation of the balloon’s remains last week. U.S. Northern Command said the debris was being transferred to an FBI lab in Virginia for “counterintelligence exploitation.”