MUNICH, Germany — Secretary of State Antony Blinken and China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, met on Saturday in what was the first face-to-face engagement by the two powers since the United States shot down what it said was China’s high-altitude surveillance balloon off the South Carolina coast, the State Department said Saturday.
The meeting occurred on the sidelines of the annual Munich Security Conference, where leaders from across the globe have gathered to discuss key geopolitical challenges including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s contentious engagement with the West.
“We can confirm that Secretary Blinken concluded a meeting with PRC State Councilor and Director of the CCP Central Foreign Affairs Office Wang Yi,” the State Department said in a statement on Saturday.
The viewpoint of China is looming particularly large at the traditionally Eurocentric conference given the surprise announcement that Chinese President Xi Jinping is planning to deliver a “peace speech” on the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
China will lay out its position on resolving the Ukraine conflict in a document underscoring that countries’ territorial integrity must not be violated, said Wang, who spoke on a panel at the conference on Saturday.
Wang said world powers need to start thinking “about what kind of efforts we can make to stop this war” and underscored that “nuclear wars must not be fought.”
Wang was much more critical in describing the United States’ handling of the balloon incident, saying the Biden administration’s actions were “absurd and hysterical.”
“We asked the United States to handle it calmly and professionally based on consultation with the Chinese side,” he said. “Regrettably, the United States disregarded these facts and used advanced fighter jets and downed a balloon with its missiles.”
Blinken, who spoke during a separate panel, said it was a top priority of the United States that China not provide any military aid to Russia, a development it would consider a “very serious problem.”
Beijing has not provided direct military support to Russia, but U.S. officials have accused Chinese state companies of providing unspecified assistance to Russia in recent weeks.
Blinken had been due to travel to Beijing earlier this month but abruptly called off the visit amid the balloon incursion. Negotiations over whether to hold this meeting in Munich had gone on for days, underscoring the strain in a relationship where meetings of top diplomats used to be commonplace, said officials familiar with the matter. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
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Hours before the meeting was scheduled to take place, the two adversaries continued to criticize each other and trade accusations about aerial espionage but also expressed an interest in improving the relationship.
China’s foreign ministry on Friday criticized a recent address by President Biden in which the U.S. president said he would make “no apologies for taking down that balloon.”
The ministry called the balloon incursion an “unintended” and “isolated” incident, saying U.S. rhetoric surrounding the event belied its claims to want open communication between the world’s two largest economies.
“The U.S. needs to stop stressing the importance of communication and dialogue while fueling tensions and escalating the crisis,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin. “It needs to work in the same direction with China to manage differences, properly handle this unexpected and isolated incident, avoid misunderstanding and miscalculation, and bring China-US relations back to the track of sound and steady development.”
White House spokesman John Kirby on Friday reaffirmed Biden’s decision to shoot down the balloon, but also stressed that it would be dangerous if the two countries failed to establish lines of communication between their militaries.
“The military lines aren’t open. And that’s really what we would like to see amended,” Kirby told reporters on Friday.
He noted, however, that the two countries’ were continuing dialogue. “I recognize that there are tensions, but Secretary Blinken still has an open line of communication with the foreign minister. We still have an embassy in Beijing,” he said.
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Blinken’s original mission in Munich was to meet with European allies and rally support for Ukraine, which is in need of additional military and economic support as the first anniversary of the war approaches.
But the balloon incident has added an additional priority to the visit. On Thursday, Biden tasked Blinken with leading an effort to establish global norms with respect to unidentified aerial objects. Biden called for the move after ordering the military last weekend to shoot down three unidentified objects that U.S. officials now believe were likely harmless airborne devices designed for commercial or research purposes.
“These steps will lead to safer and more secure skies for our air travelers, our military, our scientists, and for people on the ground as well,” Biden said.
Amy B. Wang and Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.