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The Pentagon says China declined a phone call in response to the balloon's downing

China's Defence Minister Wei Fenghe speaks at the Shangri-La Dialogue summit in Singapore on June 12, 2022
Roslan Rahman
AFP via Getty Images
China's Defence Minister Wei Fenghe speaks at the Shangri-La Dialogue summit in Singapore on June 12, 2022

The Pentagon says China declined a request for a secure call ​between Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe, after the U.S. shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon.

Beijing has said the balloon was a wayward "civilian airship" used for meteorology and other scientific purposes, and the decision to shoot it out of the sky was an "overreaction." China lodged a formal complaint with the U.S. embassy in Beijing on Monday.

The U.S. refutes the Chinese explanation, saying the balloon was attempting to surveil strategic sites as it drifted across the continental United States making headlines last week.

On Saturday, an F-22 Raptor, acting on President Biden's orders, brought it down with a missile over the Atlantic coast.

"We believe in the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between the United States and the [People's Republic of China] in order to responsibly manage the relationship. Lines between our militaries are particularly important in moments like this," U.S. Department of Defense spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement on Tuesday.

"Unfortunately, the PRC has declined our request. Our commitment to open lines of communication will continue."

In August, after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, China cut dialogue with the United States in a range of areas — including military-to-military.

While some others have restarted, the two sides are yet to resume defense talks.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

John Ruwitch is a correspondent with NPR's international desk. He covers Chinese affairs.