(CNSNews.com) – Following the weekend shoot-down of a Chinese surveillance balloon that drifted through U.S. airspace for days, senior Republicans said that while Beijing was trying to send a message of American weakness, President Biden had been hesitant to take actions that could be seen as provocative.
Regarding the timing of the brazen Chinese incursion, some pointed to a scheduled visit to Beijing by Secretary of State Antony Blinken – postponed on Friday as a result of the balloon incident – and Biden’s upcoming State of the Union address.
The balloon entered U.S. airspace near Alaska’s Aleutian Islands last Saturday, and after crossing Canada re-entered U.S. airspace over Idaho on Tuesday. Biden says he authorized its downing on Wednesday.
The Pentagon first announced the balloon’s presence publicly on Thursday – after it had been spotted by civilians in Billings, Montana. Citing concerns about the risk of debris harming Americans on the ground, defense chiefs held off on carrying out Biden’s shoot-down order until the balloon had crossed the coastline and was over the sea on Saturday.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) charged that the U.S. should have shot down the balloon as soon as it entered American airspace over the Aleutian Islands and “should have never allowed it to transit the entire continental United States.”
Biden had been reluctant “to take any action that will be viewed as provocative or confrontational towards the Chinese communists,” he told “Fox News Sunday.”
“He wants to continue to develop what he called the momentum from his meeting with Xi Jinping in Bali last November, even though China has never taken any steps to try to bring down the temperature.”
Blinken’s planned visit had been a key element in a course of action, agreed upon by Biden and Chinese President Xi when they met in Indonesia in the fall, aimed at enhancing exchanges after a long buildup of bilateral tensions.
Commenting on the timeline of the administration response, Cotton also accused it of having initially held off to avoid having to call off Blinken’s visit to Beijing.
He said he believed the administration wanted to “salvage” Blinken’s trip planned for Friday, and had made it as far as Thursday until the spotting of the balloon by civilians in Montana “forced the president’s hand.”
“It took another 12 hours before the secretary of state cancelled what was already an ill-advised trip,” he said. “So, I think there’s a lot of answers for the administration to provide the American people.”
‘A clear message’
Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), chairman of the newly-established bipartisan select committee on the Chinese Communist Party, said in a video clip that the “silver lining” in the balloon episode was that “it exposes the CCP’s new charm offensive as a farce.”
“I’m glad the secretary canceled his trip – or postponed it, he should cancel it,” Gallagher said. “But all the Wall Street bosses and media apologists coming back from [the World Economic Forum in] Davos gushing about the CCP’s change of tone and their willingness to re-engage, that’s a farce, a bedtime story they tell gullible Americans.”
Democrat Leon Panetta, a former defense secretary and CIA director, was among those raising questions about the administration’s response, telling CNN, “I’m not sure that we should have allowed it to simply cross over the country, cross over what were obviously sensitive military sites.”
Panetta also said the White House should have been more transparent about the unfolding situation, and conveyed to the American people what was going on earlier than it had.
“It would have prevented some of the criticism that occurred later, and the American people I think are entitled to know just exactly what our adversaries are up to,” he said.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that beyond whatever intelligence the Chinese may have been trying to obtain, Beijing was sending a clear message in the runup to the planned Blinken visit and the State of the Union address on Tuesday.
“More than anything else, beyond just the ability to collect information, it is the ability to send a clear message, and that is that we have the ability to do this, and America can’t do anything about it,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“If they’re not going to be able to stop a balloon from flying over U.S. airspace, how is America going to come to your aid if we invade Taiwan, or take land from India, or take islands from the Philippines and Japan?” Rubio said.
“And I think the fact that they would do that leading up to State of the Union, leading up to what was then Blinken’s scheduled visit, none of that is a coincidence,” he said.
Chinese Spy Balloon Timeline