Top US Diplomat Postpones China Trip after Balloon Seen over US

    03 February 2023

    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has postponed a planned weekend diplomatic trip to China.

    The decision followed the discovery of a Chinese balloon flying over sensitive areas in the United States Thursday.

    The U.S. described the balloon as a surveillance vehicle. But a Chinese official said it was a weather research satellite that had gone off course.

    A balloon flies in the sky over Billings, Montana, U.S. February 1, 2023 in this picture obtained from social media. (Chase Doak/via REUTERS)
    A balloon flies in the sky over Billings, Montana, U.S. February 1, 2023 in this picture obtained from social media. (Chase Doak/via REUTERS)

    The decision came just hours before Blinken was to leave for China. A U.S. official told the Associated Press that Blinken and President Joe Biden decided that it was best not to make the trip at this time.

    Blinken's meetings with senior Chinese officials had been considered a way to find common ground on a number of issues. The meetings were to begin on Sunday and go through Monday.

    Balloon flying over U.S. western area

    On Thursday, U.S. military officials said the Chinese balloon was flying over the state of Montana. The western state is home to 150 intercontinental ballistic missile silos at Malmstrom Air Force Base.

    Chase Doak lives in Billings, Montana. He told Reuters that, at first, he thought the balloon was a star. "But I thought that was kind of crazy because it was broad daylight and when I looked at it, it was just too big to be a star," he said.

    A senior defense official said the U.S. prepared fighter jets to shoot down the balloon if ordered. But the U.S. chose not to act since debris from the large balloon could have put people at risk.

    The official said the spy balloon was meant to fly over the Montana missile fields. The U.S. believes that the flyover would have "limited" intelligence value. The official said China could still get the information using other technologies, such as spy satellites.

    Brigadier General Patrick Ryder is a spokesman for the U.S. Defense Department. He told reporters Thursday that the balloon was "traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground."

    In a statement on Friday, the Chinese foreign ministry said that the balloon was a civilian airship used mainly for weather research. The ministry said the airship has limited "self-steering" capabilities and went "far from its planned course" because of winds.

    I'm Bryan Lynn.

    Hai Do adapted this story for VOA Learning English from Associated Press and Reuters reports.


    Words in This Story

    surveillance –n. the act of carefully watching someone or something to gain information

    silos –v. an underground structure used for storing missiles

    broad daylight –idiom clear for everyone to see; during the brightest part of the day

    debris –n. the wreckage of something that has been destroyed

    altitude –n. the distance from the ground to something that is high in the sky

    commercial –n. related to business; part of a business service aimed at making a profit

    steer –v. to control the direct that something goes in