Chinese spy balloon damaged already strained US-China ties, says former US Navy admiral

Both the US and China are now accusing each other of violation of international law and threatening repercussions. Mullen said Blinken did the right thing by cancelling his trip to China.

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discusses the war in Afghanistan with Harry Smith on August 1, 2010 edition of “Face the Nation” in Washington (Photo: Reuters/File)

By Press Trust of India: The Chinese surveillance balloon that traversed through continental America for a couple of days before being shot down has damaged the already deteriorating US-China relationship, a top former American Admiral said on Sunday. The US military on Saturday downed the balloon off the coast of South Carolina in the Atlantic Ocean and launched a mission to recover all the equipment from its debris. The US is recovering the remnants of the 90-foot-long suspected spy balloon after an F-22 Raptor’s AIM-9X missile popped it.

“I think strategically, this really damages the relationship between us and China, further damages, which is deteriorating. I think that’s really the big part of this,” Admiral (rtd) Mullen, former chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told ABC news.

Following the detection of a floating Chinese balloon, the size of three buses, which the Pentagon said was equipped with payloads and a surveillance balloon, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken cancelled his trip to Beijing on Friday; the first by a top American diplomat in four years. Both the US and China are now accusing each other of violation of international law and threatening repercussions.

Mullen said Blinken did the right thing by cancelling his trip to China. “There’s no way that he could have a meaningful visit and we have a host of issues that we need to address. The Biden-Xi meeting in Bali recently was attempting to put a floor on the relationship because things have deteriorated to such a bad point,” he said.

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He said at the same time there is very well a possibility of the Chinese leadership not knowing about it until it became public. “One of the questions is, whether the right hand knew what the left hand was doing inside China, and quite frankly, not dissimilar to when Bob Gates was in China about a decade ago visiting, I mean, literally sitting with the president, when the PLA tested a stealth aircraft and by all reports, Hu Jintao didn’t know anything about it,” Mullen said.

John Lee Ratcliffe, former Director of National Intelligence from 2020 to 2021, told Fox News that China executed an incredibly successful intelligence operation over the mainland of the US.

“Conversely, the Biden administration committed an unprecedented national security blunder of incalculable damage. I say that because we know the facts are very clear that America’s number one adversary, the People’s Republic of China, maneuvered spycraft into US airspace a week ago on Saturday, January 28, and it didn’t leave US airspace until a week later, Saturday, February 4,” he said.

Except for the time that it was over Canada, it spent at least four days, at least 100 hours continuously over the continental US in an intelligence operation of incalculable damage, violating US sovereignty, airspace and territorial borders in an unprecedented way, Ratcliffe alleged.

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“This was a spy operation. It was deliberate. It was intentional. It was calculated to go over sensitive military sites, nuclear facilities and critical infrastructure. There was nothing accidental about this. It was a deliberate campaign, and, unfortunately, as we just talked about, incredibly successful for the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Republic of China,” he claimed.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told CNN that the decision to shoot down the balloon in the Atlantic was taken in view of public safety. “The president gave instructions to have it handled, to have it shot down in a way that was safe. As you may have seen, there’s reporting now that the debris field that was created by this balloon when it was shot down was about seven miles long. So, any time the military is considering an operation like that, they have to consider the safety of the American people,” Buttigieg said.

The US has communicated it is not acceptable at all that China sent this object into its airspace, the Transportation Secretary said. US officials say the balloon was being used for surveillance while China insists it was a civilian research vessel. China has expressed its “strong dissatisfaction and protest” against the decision, accusing the US of “overreacting” and “seriously violating international practice.”

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