QUESTION: We go now to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is in Germany attending the Munich Security Conference. Mr. Secretary, I know you just met with your Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, who has publicly said the U.S. response to the spy balloon was absurd, hysterical, and an effort to divert attention away from domestic problems. Was he that dismissive to you in private?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Margaret, I don’t want to characterize what he said; I can tell you what I said. I made very clear to him that China sending a surveillance balloon over the United States – in violation of our sovereignty, in violation of international law – was unacceptable and must never happen again. We also had an opportunity to talk about what’s happening here in Munich, the focus of the conversation – Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine – and concerns that we have that China’s considering providing lethal support to Russia in its efforts in Ukraine. And I was able to share with him, as President Biden had shared with President Xi, the serious consequences that would have for our relationship.
Finally, it was important for me to underscore that we believe having lines of communication, engaging in direct diplomacy is very important. We have a responsibility to manage our relationship in a responsible manner. That’s part of what this evening was about.
QUESTION: Does that mean their defense minister will pick up the next phone call from Secretary Austin instead of refusing it?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, it’s one of the things that we talked about, the importance of having lines of communication, including military-to-military lines of communication. It’s vital to making sure that there aren’t miscommunications, misunderstandings, especially if you’ve got a crisis or some other situation on your hands.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: And so I tried to impress upon my Chinese counterpart the importance of having those contacts, including military-to-military.
QUESTION: A senior Pentagon official said last week that President Xi Jinping was caught by surprise by the surveillance balloon and that he doesn’t trust his own military. Did the left and right hand of the Chinese government not know what was going on?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I can’t speak to that, Margaret. But what I can – what I can tell you is this: It doesn’t matter in the sense that China is responsible for this action. And ultimately, as the leader of the country, President Xi is responsible. It’s one of the reasons it was important for me, on behalf of President Biden, to share directly with the most senior Chinese foreign policy official the very clear determination that this must not happen again.
QUESTION: Well, if Colin Kahl, this Pentagon official’s comments are accurate, that would raise the risk of miscalculation if China doesn’t have control over its own military. And so I wanted you to clarify that.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So Margaret, I can’t – again, I can’t speak to the Chinese views on this. I can only imagine that China must be in the process of trying to draw its own lessons from this incident. And of course, we’re not the only ones concerned. China’s used these surveillance balloons over more than 40 countries across five continents. So one of the things I’m hearing here in Munich is real concern about the surveillance balloon program. I suspect the fact that it’s been exposed by us is going to have to cause China to take another look at this.
QUESTION: I’m going to come back to what you mentioned in terms of providing support to Russia. There is open-source reporting that Chinese companies are providing surveillance equipment to that mercenary group, the Wagner Group, fighting in Ukraine. Does the U.S. consider this to be providing military support to Russia?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’ve been concerned from day one about that possibility. In fact, if you go back to the very first conversations that President Biden and President Xi had about Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine – just a couple of weeks into the war – President Biden shared with President Xi our deep concern about the possibility China would provide lethal support to Russia in this effort, as well as engage in the systematic evasion of sanctions. And the reason for that concern was, just weeks before the aggression, you’ll remember that President Xi and President Putin had a meeting in which they talked about a partnership with no limits. And we were concerned that among those – among the lack of limits would be Chinese support for Russia in the war.
We’ve been watching this very closely. To date, we have seen Chinese companies – and of course, in China there’