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US warns China against further ‘unacceptable’ airspace violations

US secretary of state Antony Blinken has warned his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi that the recent incursion of a high altitude balloon into US airspace was an “unacceptable violation” and it must “never again” happen.

The US’s top diplomat issued the warning as the two met on Saturday night on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. It was the first encounter between senior American and Chinese officials since the US shot down a surveillance balloon that floated over the country earlier this month.

Blinken told Wang that the presence of what Washington has described as a high-altitude surveillance balloon in US airspace represented an “unacceptable violation of US sovereignty and international law” and told him that the “irresponsible act must never again occur”, according to a State department spokesperson.

China’s high altitude surveillance balloon programme had intruded into the airspace of more than 40 countries over five continents, the State department said.

The US suspects the balloon, which spent a week flying over the US and Canada, was used for surveillance — something that Beijing has denied.

Blinken added that the US is “not looking for a new Cold War”, the State department said.

Earlier in the day, Wang used a speech at the Munich conference — attended by top officials from across the world — to criticise Washington for what he said was the “hysterical and absurd” US decision to shoot down the balloon.

“Across the globe there are many balloons from many countries. Do you want to shoot down every one of them?” he said. “It did not show that the US is strong. On contrary, it showed the opposite. We urge the US not to do such preposterous things in order to divert attention from its domestic problems.” 

Western officials now believe the balloon may have drifted off its intended course.

Biden said on Friday that he aimed to speak with Chinese president Xi Jinping to “get to the bottom” of the incident, without specifying when.

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