Republicans criticise Biden for waiting days to shoot down Chinese balloon
US Republicans on Sunday attacked President Joe Biden for waiting days to shoot down a suspected high-altitude Chinese spy balloon as it floated over the country, accusing him of showing weakness towards the Asian nation and initially trying to keep the incident undisclosed.
The president mentioned on Saturday that he issued an order on Wednesday to shoot down the balloon after it crossed Montana, but the Pentagon advised against proceeding before the balloon was over open water to prevent debris crashing to earth from twice the altitude of commercial air traffic from hurting civilians.
A US Air Force fighter jet on Saturday shot down the high-altitude balloon off the coast of South Carolina, a week after it first penetrated US airspace near Alaska. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin revealed the US military has got its hands on “valuable” intelligence.
The balloon incident has triggered a fiery debate over President Biden’s dealing with the matter and how slowly simmering tensions between the two countries might escalate.
Republican Senator Tom Cotton told the Fox News Sunday television programme that he believed Biden had waited to disclose the breach because he didn’t want the incident to affect Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s planned two-day diplomatic trip to Beijing, which ultimately was postponed.
The trip would have made Blinken the first top US diplomat to visit the Asian nation since 2018. Last month, the official said he would use the trip to Beijing to prevent the relationship from exacerbating into an all-out conflict.
Three other Chinese balloons had transited the continental US during Donald Trump’s administration, Lloyd Austin mentioned Saturday, but the Republican former president on Sunday disputed the statement, writing on social media “China has too much respect for ‘TRUMP’ for this to have happened, and it NEVER did.”
The Asian nation, after initial hesitation, has admitted ownership of the balloon, saying it was for civilian meteorological and scientific purposes and that it strayed into US airspace “completely accidentally” – claims rejected by US officials.