Biden Went Easy On China After Spy Balloon Rift To Avoid Ruining Relationship With Beijing: REPORT

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Dylan Housman Deputy News Editor
Font Size:

The Biden administration failed to harshly punish China for flying a spy balloon over U.S. territory earlier this year because it did not want to further strain relations with Beijing, according to a new Reuters report.

After the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) spy balloon traveled across the entire United States in February, some officials and policy experts expected a serious crackdown from the Biden administration in response. However, the State Department held back on sanctions for human rights violations and export controls to avoid further upsetting the relationship between Washington and Beijing, according to sources with knowledge of the decision-making and internal communications reviewed by Reuters.

The State Department’s “competitive actions” calendar, a list of actions planned to impose punishments on China, was reportedly delayed after the spy balloon incident, causing divides within the administration. Secretary of State Antony Blinken did “postpone” an impending trip to China in the immediate aftermath of the episode, and that trip has yet to be rescheduled due to conditions not being appropriate, the Department says.

Rick Waters, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for China and Taiwan, sent an email to staff on Feb. 6 alerting them that guidance from Blinken was to “push non-balloon actions to the right,” according to Reuters. (RELATED: Biden’s China Ambassador: CCP ‘Not Contributing’ To Fentanyl Problem)

While Waters reportedly said they could revisit those potential actions within a few weeks, many still have yet to resurface, sources told Reuters. Two sources reportedly said Waters told staff in late March they were to “move on” from the balloon incident at the request of Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who was eager to reschedule Blinken’s trip. Blinken has apparently delegated much of the department’s China policy to Sherman.

Tensions between the U.S. and China are higher than at any point in recent memory, with hawks on both sides of the aisle pressuring the Biden administration to do more to contain China’s growth in power. Particular areas of concern are Beijing’s increasing threats to Taiwan, economic competition and human rights abuses carried out by the CCP.

China has embraced an aggressive “wolf warrior” strategy of diplomacy, often lobbing baseless accusations at the United States about foreign interference or human rights issues. The Biden administration, contrarily, has been hesitant to characterize China as an adversary, instead casting the CCP as a fierce competitor it would like to work with in areas where cooperation is necessary.