'Trump wouldn't have tolerated this': Republicans call on Biden to ditch China visit over spy balloon

The Chinese spy balloon has been hovering for days over continental America - Chase Doak/Reuters
The Chinese spy balloon has been hovering for days over continental America - Chase Doak/Reuters

Republicans called on President Joe Biden to cancel an upcoming high-level administration trip to Beijing after the Pentagon announced the discovery of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon hovering over the US.

Senator Tom Cotton, who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said a planned meeting in the coming days between Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, should be scrapped in light of the discovery, tweeting: “Secretary Blinken should cancel his trip to China. And President Biden must answer why he has not secured US airspace.”

The Pentagon announced on Thursday it was tracking a Chinese surveillance balloon that has been hovering for days over continental America. A senior defence official told reporters that the US believes Beijing is using the high-altitude spy balloon to fly over sensitive sites and collect information.

The high-stakes visit, Mr Blinken’s first to the country as the nation’s top diplomat, is aimed at stabilising the US-China relationship - a goal that could become more difficult following the espionage aircraft’s appearance in US airspace.

Antony Blinken is set to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in the coming days - Reuters
Antony Blinken is set to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in the coming days - Reuters

Mike Gallagher and Raja Krishnamoorthi, the leaders of a House Select Committee on China, issued a joint statement saying “the Chinese Communist Party should not have on-demand access to American airspace.”

“Not only is this a violation of American sovereignty, coming only days before Secretary Blinken’s trip to the [People’s Republic of China], but it also makes clear that the [Chinese Communist Party’s] recent diplomatic overtures do not represent a substantive change in policy,” they said, adding the incident demonstrates that the threat posed by China “is not confined to distant shores — it is here at home and we must act to counter this threat.”

At Mr Biden's request, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and top military officials considered shooting the balloon down but decided doing so would endanger too many people on the ground, a senior defence official told reporters on Thursday.

Lawmakers questioned the decision not to act, allowing the spy satellite to continue flying over the US northwest for several days gathering intelligence.

“Biden should shoot down the Chinese spy balloon immediately,” tweeted Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a far-right ally of former President Donald Trump. “President Trump would have never tolerated this.”

Kevin McCarthy, House Speaker, said he would demand more information from the Biden administration.

Mr Blinken's visit to Beijing, which follows a meeting last November between Mr Biden and Mr Xi on the sidelines of the G20 summit, will be the first trip to the Asian country by the US' top diplomat since 2018.

In addition to ongoing disputes over trade and intellectual property, relations between the two countries have frayed particularly over democratically-governed Taiwan, which China has pledged to reunite with the mainland, by force if necessary.

Republicans, who have always been keen to portray Mr Biden as soft on China, portrayed the Chinese surveillance operation as a violation of US sovereignty.

Republican lawmakers in the newly GOP-controlled House have promised more focus on China - and a tougher US stance on issues from securing supply chains to investigating the origins of the coronavirus - to make their point that the Biden administration's policies have not taken a hard enough line.