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Blinken meets with China's top diplomat in first meeting since balloon controversy

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Chinese top diplomat Wang Yi in New York City on Sept. 23, 2022.
David Dee Delgado
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POOL/AFP via Getty Images
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Chinese top diplomat Wang Yi in New York City on Sept. 23, 2022.

Updated February 18, 2023 at 9:47 PM ET

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with China's top diplomat, Wang Yi, on Saturday. It is the highest level of contact between the two countries since the discovery of a Chinese surveillance balloon over U.S. airspace earlier this month.

The highly anticipated meeting took place in Munich, Germany, while both attended the Munich Security Conference, according to Ned Price, a spokesperson for the State Department. The meeting comes at a time in which tension between the two nations has escalated over national security concerns.

On Feb. 2, U.S. officials confirmed a balloon they said belonged to China was spotted floating over Montana. While Chinese officials maintain that the balloon, which the U.S. shot down two days later, was intended for research, the Pentagon claims that China intended to use it for surveillance. The incident led Blinken to postpone a previously planned trip to Beijing.

In a U.S. summary of the meeting in Munich, Price said Blinken "directly spoke to the unacceptable violation of U.S. sovereignty and international law by the [People's Republic of China] high-altitude surveillance balloon in U.S. territorial airspace, underscoring that this irresponsible act must never again occur."

Blinken also discussed other ongoing affairs with Wang, according to Price, including discouraging China from supporting Russia in its ongoing war with Ukraine and condemning North Korea's firing of a missile into the sea of Japan.

"The Secretary underscored the importance of maintaining diplomatic dialogue and open lines of communication at all times," Price said.

In an interview with CBS news, Blinken said China was "considering providing lethal support to Russia" - a red line for Washington. Blinken said such a decision would have "serious consequences that would have for our relationship."

This is not the first time the U.S. has suggested this. China has denied it intends to send weapons to Russia.

Chinese state-owned Xinhua News Agency reported the Blinken-Wang meeting was "requested by the U.S. side." China Global TV Network (CGTN) said Wang made clear China's "solemn position on the so-called airship incident in an informal conversation", in a brief news report.

CGTN also said Wang "urged the U.S. side to change course, acknowledge and repair the damage that its excessive use of force caused to China-U.S. relations."

Earlier on Saturday, Wang sharply rebuked the U.S. for downing the Chinese balloon, describing its actions as "absurd and hysterical." The incident, he added in remarks at the conference, "doesn't show American strength but the opposite."

On Ukraine, he said China's position "boils down to supporting talks for peace", and to that end he said Beijing would put forward a proposal for a "political settlement" of the issue.

It's too soon to tell how the meeting will impact relations between the U.S. and China. Earlier this week, Biden said he would speak with China's leader Xi Jinping but would not apologize for shooting the balloon down.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Giulia Heyward
Giulia Heyward is a weekend reporter for Digital News, based out of New York. She previously covered education and other national news as a reporting fellow at The New York Times and as the national education reporter at Capital B News. She interned for POLITICO, where she covered criminal justice reform in Florida, and CNN, as a writer for the trends & culture team. Her work has also been published in The Atlantic, HuffPost and The New Republic.
John Ruwitch is a correspondent with NPR's international desk. He covers Chinese affairs.
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