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US media, politicians using balloon incident "to smear China", says Beijing

Beijing: Beijing on Saturday said that US media and politicians have "hyped up" the balloon incident and are using it to "attack and smear China".
Responding to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's decision to postpone his planned trip to China due to the entry of a Chinese unmanned airship into US airspace, the Foreign Ministry Spokesperson in a media briefing said, "We have no intention to violate and has never violated the territory or airspace of any sovereign country. Some politicians and media in the US have hyped it up to attack and smear China. The Chinese side is firmly opposed to that." The discovery of the balloon prompted Blinken on Friday to cancel a trip to Beijing.
Moments before the decision to scrap the visit - aimed at easing tensions between the two countries - China issued a rare statement of regret and blamed winds for pushing what it called a civilian airship into US airspace.
"Regarding the unintended entry of a Chinese unmanned airship into US airspace due to force majeure, the Chinese side has verified it and communicated it to the US side. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes. Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course. This is entirely an unexpected situation caused by force majeure and the facts are very clear," added the spokesperson.
Meanwhile, another Chinese spy balloon has been spotted over Latin America, the Pentagon said Friday, a day after a similar craft was seen in US skies.
The Pentagon said the first balloon was now heading eastwards over the central United States, adding it was not being shot down for safety reasons.
Later Friday, Pentagon spokesperson Pat Ryder said, "We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America."
"We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon," he added, without specifying its exact location.
Regarding the first balloon, President Joe Biden's administration described it as a manoeuvrable "surveillance balloon."
With the rival Republican Party already on the offensive, Blinken postponed his planned two-day visit, reported Le Monde.
In a telephone call with senior Chinese official Wang Yi, Blinken said he "made clear that the presence of this surveillance balloon in US airspace is a clear violation of US sovereignty and international law, that it's irresponsible."
He said, however, that he told Wang that "the United States is committed to diplomatic engagement with China and that I plan to visit Beijing when conditions allow."
"The first step is getting the surveillance asset out of our airspace. That's what we're focused on," Blinken told reporters.
Blinken would have been the first top US diplomat to visit China since October 2018, signaling a thaw following intense friction under former president Donald Trump.
Notably, President Biden held a surprisingly cordial meeting in November with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a summit in Bali, where they agreed to send Blinken to Beijing.
Last month, Blinken said he would use the trip to help establish "guardrails" to prevent the relationship from escalating into all-out conflict. (ANI)

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