CAMBRIDGE – When US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, met in Bali last November, they agreed to hold high-level meetings to establish “guardrails” for the Sino-American strategic competition. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was scheduled to visit Beijing to inaugurate that effort last month. But when China sent a surveillance balloon (visible to the naked eye) over American territory, Blinken’s visit was shot down even faster than the balloon.
Though this certainly was not the first time that China deployed a balloon in such a fashion, the poor timing was remarkable. Still, it might have been better if Blinken had followed through with his visit.
Yes, China claimed, dubiously, that the device was a weather balloon that had gone astray; but intelligence cover-ups are hardly unique to China. Last month’s incident had echoes of 1960, when US President Dwight Eisenhower and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev were scheduled to meet to establish Cold War guardrails. But then the Soviets shot down an American spy plane that Eisenhower initially tried to dismiss as an errant weather flight. The summit was canceled, and real guardrails were not discussed until after the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
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