President Biden on Tuesday night mostly sidestepped the Chinese spy balloon that flew over the U.S. homeland last week, instead using his State of the Union address to focus on America’s 21st-century economic competition with Beijing.
Mr. Biden did not address the surveillance balloon by name despite the incident representing a brazen Chinese challenge to American power and sovereignty. The president spoke of the balloon only in broad terms, using the relatively short foreign policy section of his address to focus mainly on the global economy and the need to shore up international alliances.
“I will make no apologies that we are investing to make America stronger. Investing in American innovation, in industries that will define the future, that China intends to be dominating,” Mr. Biden said.
“Investing in our alliances and working with our allies to protect advanced technologies so they will not be used against us. Modernizing our military to safeguard stability and deter aggression,” the president said. “Today, we’re in the strongest position in decades to compete with China or anyone else in the world, anyone else in the world.”
Mr. Biden also said he was committed to working with China when that advances American interests or benefits the world.
“But make no mistake about it,” he said, “as we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did.”
Critics say Mr. Biden failed to act until the spy balloon had traversed the U.S.
China says the balloon was on a civilian mission to collect weather data, but the U.S. contended its trip across sensitive sites from the Canadian border to the Atlantic coast was a spy mission.
Beijing responded angrily after the U.S. military shot down the balloon Saturday, charging that the Biden administration had violated longstanding international principles by taking it down. Pentagon officials revealed Tuesday that Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe has refused phone calls from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in the days since the shootdown, underscoring the fallout stemming from the incident.
The already icy diplomatic relations between the two countries have also taken a significant hit. A planned trip by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Beijing for high-level talks last weekend was called off at the last minute after the balloon was spotted high over the western U.S.
In addition to the major national security questions raised by the balloon incursion, the incident has become a massive political headache for the president. Mr. Biden and top administration officials have faced intense criticism for reportedly keeping the balloon’s existence under wraps for at least several days, and for subsequently allowing it to pass from coast to coast before shooting it down.
“Over the last several days the country learned that on President Biden’s watch, the state of our union is apparently under Chinese surveillance from our own skies,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the chamber floor earlier Tuesday.
“It’s ludicrous to suggest that Canada and the United States had no choice but to let this thing traipse across the continent from coast to coast,” the Kentucky Republican said.
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