Biden to speak with Xi after balloon incident

Biden to speak with Xi after balloon incident

US President Joe Biden on Thursday said he planned to speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss this month’s shoot-down of a Chinese balloon that floated across America before it was destroyed off the coast of South Carolina.

“I expect to be speaking with President Xi, and I hope we get to the bottom of this,” Mr Biden said in remarks from the White House, noting that lines of communication between the two economic and nuclear superpowers must remain open.

The US leader also tried to tamp down fears of any potential conflict with China.

“We’re not looking for a new Cold War,” said Mr Biden, whose administration has faced bipartisan calls to discuss the balloon incident in greater detail.

“But I make no apologies and we will compete and we will responsibly manage that competition so that doesn’t veer into conflict.”

He added: “I make no apologies for taking down that balloon.”

Mr Biden did not provide details on when his conversation with Mr Xi might take place.

Beijing maintains that the 60-metre, 900-kilogram balloon was intended to monitor weather and was led astray by the wind.

The prospect of a Biden-Xi call comes after Secretary of State Antony Blinken cancelled a planned trip to Beijing, which was supposed to have signalled a willingness to engage in rapprochement.

Officials also confirmed that Beijing rebuffed a request for Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin to hold a phone call with his Chinese counterpart.

Three other aerial objects were shot down in recent weeks: one over Alaska, one over Canada and a third that fell into Lake Huron.

Mr Biden said those objects were not related to “China’s spy balloon programme”, nor were they “surveillance vehicles from other any other country”.

The intelligence community’s assessment was that the objects were most likely balloons belonging to private companies or research institutions, Mr Biden said.

“But make no mistake: If any object presents a threat to the safety security American people, I will take it down,” he said, echoing similar remarks he made during his State of the Union address on February 8.

The US and Canadian militaries are still recovering the debris from the downed objects.

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