QUESTION: Secretary Blinken and I discussed all these issues yesterday during his trip to Munich. I began by asking him about that high-stakes meeting with China’s top diplomat.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We had a very direct, very clear conversation about the Chinese surveillance balloon being sent over our territory in violation of our sovereignty, in violation of international law. I told Wang Yi, my Chinese counterpart, that that action was unacceptable and must never happen again.
We also had an opportunity to talk about the Russian aggression against Ukraine. We’re here in Munich and many of the countries here are focused, as we are, on that aggression. And one of the things that I shared with him was a growing concern on our part that China is considering providing lethal support to Russia in its aggression against Ukraine. And I made clear, as President Biden has – almost from day one with President Xi – that that would have serious consequences in our own relationship.
Finally, it was important for me to underscore the importance of having open lines of communication between us, in continuing to engage in direct diplomacy. We have a responsibility to manage the relationship responsibly. I think the world expects that of us; it’s also in our interest. And so that’s also something that I underscored in the meeting with Wang Yi this evening.
QUESTION: And I will say that Wang Yi has said of the Chinese spy balloon the whole shoot-down incident, that it was absurd and hysterical, and said Cold War mentality is back. Is that the message you got from him?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I don’t want to characterize what he said to me, Martha. But I think here in Munich, too, what we know is we are not the only ones on the receiving end of the Chinese spy balloons. More than 40 countries have had these balloons go over their territory, and this goes back some years. This program’s been around for a few years. So there’s a real concern that I’m hearing here from other countries – from allies and partners alike – about this program. And I think countries are – I was going to say “pleased,” but “pleased” is the wrong word. They appreciate the fact that we’ve exposed it.
QUESTION: I will assume you got no apology.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Again, don’t want to characterize what he said, but you’re correct.
QUESTION: And you talk about this lethal aid. What evidence do you have of that? What makes you think they’re about to send lethal aid to the Russians for the war in Ukraine?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Martha, what I can tell you is this: First of all, from day one, almost quite literally – because President Biden spoke to President Xi a couple of weeks into the Russian aggression back last March and said to him that it would be a deep concern to us if China provided lethal support to Russia or helped in the systematic evasion of sanctions. And part of the reason for that conversation – going back to last March – was just a few weeks before, President Putin and President Xi had met and they talked about a partnership with no limits, and we were very concerned that no limits might include significant support to Russia in its aggression.
We’ve been watching this very, very closely. And for the most part, China has been engaged in providing rhetorical, political, diplomatic support to Russia, but we have information that gives us concern that they are considering providing lethal support to Russia in the war against Ukraine. And it was important for me to share very clearly with Wang Yi that this would be a serious problem.
QUESTION: And Mr. Secretary, I want to go back to the Chinese spy balloon. Some U.S. officials believe it’s possible the Chinese didn’t intend for the spy balloon to go to the United States, to cross the United States. Do you believe that was their intent originally?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Martha, I can’t speak to their original intent. What I can tell you is this: Once over the United States, the balloon attempted to surveil very critical, important military installations. We protected the sensitive information that it was trying to surveil. We, at the same time, got information about the balloon itself as it was traversing the country going west to east, and then when it was safe to do so, there was no danger to people on the ground, President Biden ordered that it be shot down.