China’s top diplomat calls US balloon claims ‘absurd’

China’s top diplomat has lashed out at the US, calling Washington’s decision to shoot down a balloon in American airspace “hysterical and absurd”.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, Wang Yi, who holds the top foreign policy position in China’s communist party, said the shooting down “ignored basic facts” and was evidence that the US had made a strategic miscalculation about China.

“Across the globe there are many balloons from many countries. Do you want to shoot down every one of them?” Wang said. “It did not show that the US is strong. On contrary, it showed the opposite. We urge the US not to do such preposterous things in order to divert attention from its domestic problems.”

Wang also said Beijing would soon put forward a new peace proposal to resolve the war in Ukraine that would seek to respect “the sovereignty of all countries”.

He added that to maintain peace across the Taiwan Strait, Taiwanese independence forces must be opposed.

The balloon row has escalated US-Chinese tensions. The US has said it suspects the ballon was for surveillance after it spent a week flying over the US and Canada, before being shot down over the Atlantic earlier this month on US president Joe Biden’s orders. Beijing has denied this.

Western officials now believe the balloon may have drifted off its intended course. Biden said on Friday that he aimed to speak with Chinese president Xi Jinping to “get to the bottom” of the incident, although he has not specified when.

US-China relations and the threat posed to European security by Russian aggression have dominated the Munich Security Conference, where senior foreign policy, defence and intelligence officials from across the west have gathered for three days of meetings on the eve of the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Western leaders have called on China to use its voice in the UN to condemn the war, but so far China has continued to maintain a studiously neutral public position. Last year, just 20 days before the invasion, presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin struck what they called a “relationship without limits”.

Wang said China “was not directly concerned in the conflict, but was not standing idly by” and that Beijing would soon publish a position paper on how to find a political solution.

“The position paper will reiterate President Xi’s positions,” Wang said. Among them “territorial integrity of nations must be kept . . . security concerns must be addressed . . . nuclear wars must not be fought . . . [and] we oppose attacks on nuclear power stations in order to prevent nuclear catastrophe,” he said.

Russian forces have occupied Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, since they attacked and took it over last March.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has called for a military safe zone to be established around the plant, has warned that the threat of a nuclear accident there remains very high.

German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock gave the Chinese initiative a cautious welcome. “We have to exploit every chance for peace,” she told reporters in Munich. “It’s good . . . that China sees it as its responsibility, as a member of the UN Security Council, to stick up for world peace.”

But she stressed that any peace proposal must be based on a “recognition of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of every country”.

“A just peace presupposes that the country that has violated [Ukraine’s] territorial integrity, that is Russia, must withdrawn its troops from all occupied land,” she added.

German officials say they would not support a peace proposal based on any attempt to impose a ceasefire that would freeze the conflict and force western nations to suspend arms supplies to Ukraine.

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