Republicans on Wednesday blasted Vice President Kamala Harris for downplaying the impact that the takedown of the Chinese spy balloon over U.S. airspace will have on diplomatic relations between the two countries.
In an interview with Politico, Ms. Harris said she didn’t think the episode would impact relations between Washington and Beijing, apparently overlooking the fact that Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a scheduled trip to China over the controversy.
The National Republican Congressional Committee is demanding the vice president be barred from leading the U.S. envoy to the Munich Security Conference this week after asserting Washington could maintain its foreign policy with Beijing following the episode.
“Unless House Democrats agree with Kamala Harris’ coddling approach to China, they must demand she cancel her plans to Munich as she clearly doesn’t have the backbone to stand up to America’s adversaries,” NRCC spokesman Will Reinert said.
Ms. Harris offered her assessment of the future of U.S.-China relations in the interview with Politico published Wednesday.
When asked whether the Chinese surveillance overflight of the U.S. earlier this month should have an impact on diplomacy between the two global heavyweights, the vice president told the outlet: “I don’t think so, no.”
She added that the U.S. seeks “competition, but not conflict or confrontation” with Beijing, in keeping with President Biden’s stated approach before the surveillance balloon saga.
Mrs. Harris also noted in the interview that she conveyed that approach in November when she briefly met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bangkok.
“Everything that has happened in the last week and a half is, we believe, very consistent with our stated approach,” she said.
Ms. Harris’ remarks to Politico seemed to belie the gravity the administration has publicly placed on the Chinese incursion.
The White House called the presence of the spy balloon a “clear violation” of U.S. sovereignty and international law earlier this month as the balloon tracked across the lower 48 states.
The vice president’s remarks also seem to dismiss the damage already incurred to the U.S.-China relationship by the episode.
Mr. Blinken abruptly canceled a long-planned trip to China that was meant to salvage the quickly souring relationship, in response to the incursion.
China’s defense ministry also refused to take a phone call from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on a special crisis line last week, saying the U.S. had “not created the proper atmosphere” for dialogue and exchange.
The highly visible intrusion has also sparked bipartisan outrage in Washington. Lawmakers from both parties questioned the administration’s decision to allow the spy balloon to track across the U.S. for nearly before shooting it down on Feb. 4 off the coast of South Carolina.
The White House said it chose to allow the balloon to stay aloft, upon recommendation from the Pentagon, to avoid risking casualties on the ground if they shot it down over land.
Nonetheless, the administration was quick to shoot down three more unidentified objects that violated U.S. airspace in the wake of the Chinese spy balloon incident.
Mrs. Harris offered her remarks less than 24 hours before her scheduled departure to the Munich conference. She said she has no talks on the calendar during the conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is also expected to attend.
Mr. Blinken, who will also be in Munich for the conference, is considering a meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Reuters reported Monday.