Beijing rejected a request for a secure call between Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin and his counterpart on the day an American warplane shot down a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon, a US spokesman said Tuesday.
“On Saturday, 4 February, immediately after taking action to down the PRC balloon, the DOD submitted a request for a secure call between Secretary Austin and PRC Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe,” Department of Defense Brigadier General Pat Ryder said in a statement, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
“Unfortunately, the PRC has declined our request. Our commitment to open lines of communication will continue,” Ryder added.
China says the balloon was an errant weather observation aircraft with no military purpose, but Washington has described it as a sophisticated high-altitude spying vehicle.
After slowly traversing the middle of the United States, reportedly over several top secret military sites, the balloon headed out over the east coast.
A US fighter plane shot down the balloon Saturday just off the coast over the Atlantic, and naval and coast guard forces are currently recovering the debris for intelligence analysis.