China’s top foreign policy official on Saturday mocked America’s response to a recent Chinese spy balloon overflight, calling the U.S. actions “absurd and hysterical” and an effort “to divert attention from its domestic problems.”
The official, Wang Yi, the Chinese Communist Party’s senior member for foreign affairs, repeated his government’s claim that the balloon, which flew over several U.S. states this month before President Biden ordered it shot down, was a “civilian” craft blown off course by high winds.
He made the remarks in a speech to the Munich Security Conference, which has been largely focused on Ukraine, as suspense mounted over whether he might meet on the sidelines with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken. It would be the first high-level diplomatic exchange between Washington and Beijing since Mr. Blinken canceled a planned trip to China over the balloon episode.
Mr. Wang opened his appearance at the conference with remarks about Beijing’s desire for “peaceful coexistence” abroad, while reiterating familiar Chinese admonitions against interference in its internal affairs and its longstanding opposition to Taiwanese independence.
In words that the United States might find encouraging, Mr. Wang also said that “nuclear wars must not be fought,” a potential signal to Beijing’s ally, Moscow, that China will not tolerate the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine, as Russian officials have at times threatened.
Mr. Wang added that nations “must jointly oppose the use of chemical and biological weapons under any circumstances.” U.S. officials have warned that Russia might also contemplate such attacks.
Mr. Wang added that the war in Ukraine “must not continue,” although he was vague about who might be responsible, saying only that “some forces might not want to see peace talks to materialize” and “might have strategic goals larger than Ukraine itself.” That language echoed Kremlin claims, rejected by the West, that Russia is willing to engage in good-faith peace talks and that NATO aims to subjugate Russia.
During a question-and-answer session, Mr. Wang turned sharply critical of the United States. He described the balloon as “an unmanned airship that is civilian in nature” with limited steering ability and said that it had “veered off course” and been blown into U.S. airspace.
“We asked the United States to handle it calmly and professionally based on consultation with the Chinese side,” he said. “Regrettably, the United States disregarded these facts and used advanced fighter jets and downed a balloon with its missiles.”
“This is, I would say, absurd and hysterical. This is 100 percent an abuse of the use of force,” Mr. Wang said, adding that Washington had violated an international convention governing airspace.
In the days after shooting down of the Chinese balloon, U.S. fighter jets downed three other objects over North America that U.S. officials now say they believe were harmless and probably not from China.
“Across the globe, there are many balloons in the sky from different countries,” Mr. Wang said. “Do you want to down each and every one of them?”
He made no mention of a potential meeting with Mr. Blinken or a possible call between President Biden and China’s top leader, Xi Jinping. Mr. Biden said in remarks to the nation on Thursday that he hoped to speak with Mr. Xi about the matter.
When reporters who chanced upon Mr. Wang in the conference hallways asked him about a possible Blinken meeting, he simply chuckled.