Pentagon says Austin rebuffed when he sought to reach out to Beijing over Chinese spy balloon

Directly after the U.S. military shot down a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon on Saturday, the Pentagon’s top civilian attempted to reach out to his Chinese counterpart but was rebuffed, the Defense Department revealed Tuesday. 

“Immediately after taking action to down the [People’s Republic of China] balloon, the DOD submitted a request for a secure call between” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement.  

“Unfortunately, the PRC has declined our request,” he added, noting that the U.S. will continue to keep communication channels open. 

The United States keeps lines of communication free between itself and other countries such as Russia and China to avoid any situation such as missile tests or military drills being misconstrued and spinning into an unintended conflict.  

In this case, the Biden administration ordered the balloon be shot down as it was over U.S. airspace off the coast of South Carolina. The aerial object, first detected over the Aleutian Islands near Alaska on Jan. 28 and spotted over Montana on Feb. 1, was thought to be gathering intelligence on the country as it traveled for days over the continental United States. 

“We believe in the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between the United States and the PRC in order to responsibly manage the relationship,” Ryder said. “Lines between our militaries are particularly important in moments like this.”

Prior to the downing of the balloon, U.S. officials had communicated the “seriousness with which we take this issue” to the Chinese government “through multiple channels” both in Washington and in Beijing, a senior defense official told reporters Thursday.  

“We have made clear we will do whatever is necessary to protect our people and our homeland,” they said at the time. 

The high-profile incident also caused Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel a planned trip to Beijing set for this past weekend. 

The Navy is now attempting to collect the balloon’s debris to be analyzed by federal agencies, with the service earlier on Tuesday releasing images of the cleanup in the Atlantic Ocean.  

Tags Antony Blinken China Chinese balloon Chinese spy balloon Lloyd Austin Lloyd Austin Montana Pat Ryder

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