Chinese defense minister refused to talk to Austin after balloon downing, Pentagon says

Last updated on February 7, 2023

China’s defense minister turned down a request to speak to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin after the U.S. downed a Chinese spy balloon Saturday, a Pentagon official said Tuesday.

The Defense Department made the request for a secure phone call between Austin and Chinese Minister of Defense Wei Fenghe “immediately” after an F-22 shot down the balloon as it floated off the coast of South Carolina.

“Lines between our militaries are particularly important in moments like this. Unfortunately, the PRC has declined our request,” Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement. “Our commitment to open lines of communication will continue.”

The military shot down the balloon after it spent a week transiting Canada and the U.S.

China, which claimed the airship was a weather balloon that had gone astray, has threatened repercussions for its downing.

Wei, for his part, last June appeared to single out the United States for criticism in an international appearance in Singapore.

Meanwhile, members of both parties in the U.S. have called for aggressive action against China.

President Joe Biden said last week he wanted to shoot down the balloon earlier, but top Pentagon leaders recommended the military wait until it was over water to ensure no one on the ground was harmed by debris.

The military has since launched recovery efforts in the Atlantic Ocean to collect remnants of the balloon and its large payload.