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Pentagon: China won’t take call from US defense on downed balloon

(NewsNation) — The People’s Republic of China rejected a request from the U.S. to have a secure call between top defense officials after the balloon floating in U.S. airspace was shot down off the Carolina coast, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told NewsNation that immediately after the U.S. took action to bring the balloon down Saturday, the Department of Defense asked to have a secure call between U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and PRC Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe.

“We believe in the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between the United States and the PRC in order to responsibly manage the relationship. Lines between our militaries are particularly important in moments like this. Unfortunately, the PRC has declined our request,” Brig. Gen. Ryder said, in part.

The balloon, which China has maintained was not being used for intelligence gathering, was initially spotted on Jan. 28 before it hovered over the continental U.S., including some areas containing military bases and missile silos. A U.S. aircraft shot the balloon down on Feb. 4.

Chinese officials insist the U.S. overreacted by shooting down what they claim was a civilian weather balloon.

“The United States turned a deaf ear and insisted on indiscriminate use of force against the civilian airship that was about to leave the United States airspace, obviously overreacted and seriously violated the spirit of international law and international practice,” Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng said.

The Navy recently released images from Feb. 5 of sailors collecting the high-altitude balloon from a debris field around the size of “15 football fields by 15 football fields” off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Some Republican lawmakers have questioned why the balloon was not brought down sooner, suggesting it was a failure by the Biden administration.

“The President taking it down over the Atlantic is sort of like tackling the quarterback after the game is over,” Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, said during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The White House has defended President Joe Biden’s actions.

Biden said that at first, he ordered the Pentagon to shoot down the balloon as soon as possible, but military officials later recommended that he wait until the balloon was over water to make sure no one would get hurt from falling debris.

“The President called for this to be dealt with in a way that balanced all the different risks. That’s exactly what happened. The military did a terrific job,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Meanwhile, the Gang of Eight, a group of Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate of both intelligence committees, will receive a private, classified briefing this week about China and the balloon, Capitol Hill sources told NewsNation.

A full U.S. Senate briefing on the balloon is expected to take place on Feb. 9, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer confirmed.