Video After The Jump

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken has postponed a planned high-stakes weekend diplomatic trip to China as the Biden administration weighs a broader response to the discovery of a high-altitude Chinese balloon flying over sensitive sites in the western U.S.

The abrupt decision came despite China’s claim that the balloon was a weather research “airship” that had blown off course. The U.S. has described it as a surveillance vehicle.

The development came just before Blinken had been due to depart Washington for Beijing & marked a new blow to already strained U.S.-Chinese relations.

President Biden declined to comment when questioned at an economic event. 2 2024 reelection challengers, Donald Trump & Nikki Haley said the U.S. should immediately shoot down the balloon.

Discovery of the balloon was announced by Pentagon officials who said 1 of the places it was spotted was over the state of Montana, which is home to 3 of America’s 3 nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base.

A senior defense official said the U.S. prepared fighter jets, including F-22s, to shoot down the balloon if ordered. The Pentagon ultimately recommended against it, noting that even as the balloon was over a sparsely populated area of Montana, its size would create a debris field large enough that it could have put people at risk.

The official said the balloon was headed over the Montana missile fields, but the U.S. has assessed that it had only “limited” value in terms of providing intelligence China couldn’t obtain by other technologies, such as spy satellites.

The official called the presence of the balloon “unacceptable.”

“The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into U.S. airspace due to force majeure,” a statement said.

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