The heated conversation on Capitol Hill over recent Chinese espionage came to a head on Tuesday as Congress members from both parties demanded answers from Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s team regarding the spy balloon shot down over the United States earlier this year.
“They have had months to figure [it] out,” said Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) of the House Foreign Affairs Committee during the hearing. “And they haven’t told you. And they haven’t told me what was on the balloon.”
Many on the right showed frustration with the State Department’s lack of transparency and their apparent attempts to avoid making China face consequences for its actions.
“I am worried about the growing trend of the State Department not being forthcoming with information about its engagements with the PRC, or actions taken by the PRC that directly affect U.S. national security, such as the spy balloon,” said Rep. Young Kim (R-CA), chair of the Foreign Affairs subcommittee for the Indo-Pacific.
The balloon incident delayed a planned trip to meet with Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping, as it brought U.S.-China relations to a head and caused a stir among citizens across the nation. After months of silence from both U.S. and China, Secretary Blinken made a long-delayed visit to Beijing and publicly declared the balloon incident “closed,” much to the dismay of Republicans.
Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) asked whether Blinken had been urged to delay his visit in exchange for not revealing the FBI’s findings about the balloon. Assistant Secretary Daniel Kritenbrink of the State Department’s East Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau clarified that no conditions had been set for rescheduling the Secretary’s trip.
Sherman suggested lawmakers could receive a classified briefing on the analysis that should have been conducted into the balloon’s contents. He noted that the U.S. had deliberately not shot down the balloon to ensure that it didn’t gather and send back any sensitive information from military bases. Kritenbrink said he would take the request back to the administration for consideration.
Regardless of the outcome of the hearing, it appears China’s espionage has left a sour taste in the mouths of both Democrats and Republicans alike. Democrats suspect an underlying motive behind Blinken’s “closed” comment, while Republicans demand accountability and for Beijing to face consequences. Together, the two parties are now joining forces in a bid to break the silence surrounding the balloon and give insight into its purpose.