China declines U.S. request for defense chiefs to speak after balloon incident

By Tony Bertuca / February 7, 2023 at 4:59 PM

The Chinese government declined Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's request to speak by phone with his military counterpart in China, according to the Pentagon.

Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon chief spokesman, said Austin requested on Saturday to speak with Chinese Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe immediately following the U.S. action to shoot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina.

“Unfortunately, the [People’s Republic of China] has declined our request,” Ryder said, adding that the U.S. commitment to “open lines of communication will continue.”

“We believe in the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between the United States and the PRC in order to responsibly manage the relationship,” Ryder said. “Lines between our militaries are particularly important in moments like this.”

China has said the balloon was a “civilian airship” that was blown off-course and castigated the United States for shooting it down.

The incident, which caused Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to cancel a planned diplomatic trip to China, has led to renewed tension between the countries and calls for action on Capitol Hill.

Meanwhile, Beijing has said the debris from the downed surveillance balloon “belongs to China” and should be returned.