Kamala Harris said in an interview with Politico published Wednesday morning that the recent flyover of the U.S. from Alaska to South Carolina of a China spy balloon that was subsequently shot down by the U.S. off the the South Carolina coast would have no impact on U.S. China relations. Harris also cited her meeting with China President Xi Jinping last fall as part of consistent messaging from the Biden administration.
The Washington Post first reported on Tuesday, followed by CBS News, that the U.S. had tracked the spy balloon from it’s launch on Hainan Island sometime in January, something the Biden administration did not disclose in statements about the balloon being sighted over Alaska’s Aleutian Islands on January 28.
U.S. officials first spotted the Chinese spy balloon when it lifted off from Hainan Island in China last month and continued to track it as it flew over Hawaii and Alaska for a full week, before flying over the rest of the country, reports @edokeefe. https://t.co/T5T5Zx8bkv pic.twitter.com/iszracOalN
— CBS Mornings (@CBSMornings) February 15, 2023
Also Wednesday morning, China Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin said the U.S. shooting down the balloon has had a “grave impact” on relations and threatened retaliation over sanctions the Biden administration imposed over the incident. The spokesman also repeated China’s accusation that the U.S. has flown more than ten spy balloons over China in the past year. The Biden administrations denies the accusation.
Vice President Kamala Harris said the recent U.S. downing of a Chinese surveillance balloon over American waters should not have an impact on diplomatic relations between the two global superpowers.
“I don’t think so, no,” she told POLITICO in an exclusive phone interview Tuesday.
Harris’ remarks come more than a week after the U.S. decided to shoot down the balloon off the South Carolina coast, and they resemble one of the clearest public efforts by the administration to prevent further geopolitical fallout from the incident. Asked to describe the Biden administration’s approach to Beijing, she said: “We seek competition, but not conflict or confrontation.”
Harris noted that she said as much to Chinese President Xi Jinping when they met briefly in November at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bangkok. “Everything that has happened in the last week and a half is, we believe, very consistent with our stated approach,” she said.
…Harris conducted the interview roughly 24 hours before she was scheduled to depart Washington to lead the U.S. delegation at the Munich Security Conference. China’s top diplomat will be in attendance but Harris said there was nothing scheduled between her and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Reuters reported Monday that Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who will also be attending the conference, is considering a meeting with his counterpart.
Excerpt from the Chinese government’s English language transcript of Wednesday’s press briefing by China Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin
The entry of a Chinese civilian unmanned airship into the US airspace is purely an unintended, unexpected and isolated event caused by force majeure. China has repeatedly communicated this to the US side, yet the US overreacted by abusing the use of force and escalating the situation. It also used the incident as an excuse to impose illegal sanctions over Chinese companies and institutions. China is strongly opposed to this and will take countermeasures in accordance with law against relevant US entities that have undermined China’s sovereignty and security to firmly safeguard China’s sovereignty and legitimate rights and interests.
NBC: China has stated that the Chinese airship shot down by the US had been accidentally blown off course. Could you clarify what then was the intended course, flight path or destination of the downed balloon?
Wang Wenbin: The entry of a Chinese civilian unmanned airship into the US airspace is purely an unintended, unexpected and isolated event caused by force majeure. The facts are clear and shall not be distorted or misrepresented. Despite that, the US still decided to use force against the civilian airship even as it was about to leave US airspace. This is a clear overreaction that seriously contravenes the spirit of international law and customary international practice. What the US did has had a grave impact on the efforts and progress made by China and the US in stabilizing bilateral relations since the leaders’ meeting in Bali. We are firmly opposed to what the US has done and urge the US not to take further actions that could undermine China’s interests or escalate tensions.
AFP: Yesterday you said that US balloons have illegally flown over China’s airspace more than ten times at least since May last year. How did China deal with these US balloons?
Wang Wenbin: Since May last year, the US has released a large number of high-altitude balloons from its territory, which have continuously circled the globe and illegally flown over China’s airspace, including Xinjiang and Tibet, more than ten times at least without the approval of relevant Chinese authorities.
With regard to the unintended entry of a Chinese civilian unmanned airship into the US airspace caused by force majeure, China has repeatedly communicated it to the US side. The US, however, says nothing about the illegal flight of its balloons over China’s airspace without China’s approval, and even accuses China of spreading disinformation. The US cited the unintended entry of a Chinese unmanned airship into its airspace as a violation of its sovereignty, then how does it explain the illegal overflight of its balloons through China’s airspace? China has handled the illegal flight of US balloons through our airspace in a calm and professional manner. By contrast, the US overreacted to the unintended entry of a Chinese civilian airship into its airspace caused by force majeure.
The US needs to give an explanation to China and the international community, reflect on its behavior, stop smearing and attacking China and stop misleading the US public and the international community. China reserves the right to further respond if necessary.
Excerpt from U.S. Department of Commerce statement on China spy balloon sanctions issued February 10:
Commerce Adds Six to Entity List for Supporting PRC Military Modernization, Intelligence, and Reconnaissance Activities
Entities tied specifically to the People’s Liberation Army’s aerospace programs including airships and balloons and related materials and components
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) added six entities in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to the Entity List for supporting the PRC’s military modernization efforts, specifically those related to aerospace programs,
including airships and balloons and related materials and components, that are used by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) for intelligence and reconnaissance.
Companies or other entities added to the Entity List are restricted from obtaining U.S. items and technologies without U.S. government authorization. This protects U.S. national security by imposing additional U.S. government oversight on exports of items subject to U.S. jurisdiction and sends a clear message to companies, governments, and other stakeholders globally that the entities on the list present a threat to national security.
“The Commerce Department will not hesitate to continue to use the Entity List and our other regulatory and enforcement tools to protect U.S. national security and sovereignty,” said Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves. “The Entity List is a powerful tool for identifying and cutting off actors that seek to use their access to global markets to do harm and threaten American national security.”
“The PRC’s use of high-altitude balloons violates our sovereignty and threatens U.S. national security,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Industry and Security Alan Estevez. “Today’s action makes clear that entities that seek to harm U.S. national security and sovereignty will be cut off from accessing U.S. technologies.”