Biden’s speech on Balloon not enough to fix China ties

BEIJING: In his most recent comments on the balloon farce, US President Joe Biden confirmed three objects shot down in North American airspace are not connected to China, but made “no apologies” for taking down the deviated Chinese airship while still seeking talks with China. Analysts said as there have been no findings to support the spying accusations, Biden made the low-key speech in a bid to bring a soft landing to the balloon spat. However, his ability to resist toxic anti-China sentiment in Washington and stop the deterioration in China-US relations remains a question.
Biden on Thursday made his most extensive remarks on the Chinese balloon and three unidentified objects downed by US fighters. After saying that the most recent three objects appear to have been benign, Biden warned that if any object presents a threat to the safety and security of the American people, he “will take it down.”
While boasting about his decision to shoot down the Chinese balloon, Biden claimed the US was continuing to engage diplomatically with China on the issue and said he is not looking for a “new cold war” with China, but plans to continue pushing policies to compete with the country.
In response to Biden’s remarks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin reiterated on Friday that the Chinese airship’s unintended entry into US airspace was an unexpected and isolated incident, but it tested the US’ capability to properly manage crisis and sincerity about stabilizing relations with China.
The US cannot ask for dialogue and communication while at the same time escalating confrontation and crisis. It should meet China halfway to manage differences, properly handle the unexpected isolated incidents, avoid misjudgments and work to bring bilateral relations back to the healthy and stable track, said Wang Wenbin.
The spat between China and the US around the balloon incident has continued. Also on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre claimed that China’s sanctions against US defense contractors Lockheed Martin Corp and Raytheon Missiles & Defense was to shift attention from the balloon incident, and criticized China for its “irresponsible” move.
In his response, Wang Wenbin said, “Speaking of ‘deflecting’, can the US tell us why it is able to see the ‘balloon’ 18,000 meters in the sky, but seems to have been blind to the toxic mushroom cloud of vinyl chloride over Ohio? Why was it vocal about investigations and accountability immediately after the Nord Stream blast, and yet unusually silent in the wake of the latest investigative report written by a US journalist?”
“What exactly were the three high-altitude objects it shot down? If the US does not consider the appearance of these objects in US airspace to be irresponsible, why jab its fingers at China?
–The Daily Mail-Global Times news exchange itrm

The US should not have overreacted and abused the use of force, still less use the incident for political manipulation or to smear and attack China,” said the spokesperson.
Biden’s Thursday speech was made as he faced increasing pressure in Washington to be more transparent about the situation around the Chinese balloon and the aerial objects, after confusing information from the military and the White House left not only Americans, but also the international community perplexed. Compared to some anti-China hawkish “China threat” rhetoric, Biden’s low-key speech aims to bring a soft landing to the balloon saga, analysts said.

However, as politicians in Washington seemed obsessed with anti-China sentiment, whether Biden is capable of avoiding further straining China-US relations amid the toxic political atmosphere remains a question.

Finding nothing to support its previous “spying” accusations after collecting and assessing the debris of the Chinese civilian airship that it shot down may be one reason why Biden kept the speech low-key, Sun Chenghao, a research fellow from the Center for International Security and Strategy at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times.

China and the US could have had better communication on the balloon incident, as it is by nature not a very significant issue. But against the backdrop of intensifying China-US competition, some administrative departments that initially wanted to use the incident to push their strategy toward China found its side effects went out of control due to complicated domestic politics, Sun said.

The Biden administration may have been overconfident in its ability to set guardrails for China-US relations, and now realizes that once the irrational anti-China sentiment is fanned, any attempt to fix relations will be impeded, said Sun.

On February 9, the US House of Representatives unanimously backed a resolution condemning China for “the incursion” of the balloon into US airspace. Republicans are also ramping up their criticism of the Biden administration’s handling of the Chinese balloon, pushing the President to be harsher on China.

The US is split, as the administrative authority hopes to maintain communication and cooperation with China, push forward bilateral relations with a set agenda and deal with heated issues, such as the Ukraine crisis. But some politicians, including Republicans, have different views and want to take the steering wheel, Zhang Jiadong, a professor at the Center for American Studies in Fudan University, told the Global Times.

Some officials from the Biden administration also expressed the importance of having communication with China and also hinted at a possible meeting between China’s top diplomat Wang Yi and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Munich. In a speech at the Brookings Institution, Blinken’s deputy Wendy Sherman said, “We have, we are and we will maintain open lines of communication” with China so “we can responsibly manage the competition between our countries.”

Chinese analysts called on the Biden administration to take action instead of simply paying lip service. Fixing China-US relations is a test of Biden’s abilities and poses a severe challenge on how to avoid US diplomacy being taken hostage by political struggles, as some Republicans are pushing to provoke China, they said.

Republicans in Congress’ foreign affairs and armed services committees are asking President Joe Biden to propose as much as $2 billion in military aid for the island of Taiwan when he releases his fiscal 2024 budget request, expected next month, media reported. Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s top China official, Michael Chase, has arrived in the island for a visit, the Financial Times reported, citing a source.

China-US relations were severely harmed after former House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s provocative visit to the island of Taiwan in August 2022. China has reiterated its firm opposition to US’ official exchanges with the island and asked the US to abide by its commitment.

There have been growing calls from around the world in recent days for China and the US to prevent the fallout from the incident to spiral out of control. US former senior State Department official Chas Freeman was cited by media as saying that the US’ hysterical overreaction to the Chinese balloon incident, including calling off a high-level diplomatic dialogue, shows the world that the Biden administration does not have sufficient strength and ability to engage Beijing constructively.

Zhang said that the international community does not want to see the deterioration of China-US relations while the Russia-Ukraine conflict is ongoing. They are also witnessing which side is taking tangible actions in stabilizing relations, and which is not, he added.