China’s Ministry of National Defense, which usually comments on military issues, did not comment.
“China is a responsible country, always strictly abides by international law, and has no intention of violating any sovereign country’s territory or airspace,” Mao Ning, a spokeswoman for the foreign ministry, told a regular news briefing on Friday afternoon. But she said then that the authorities needed to check the reports.
The Global Times, a Communist Party-run newspaper that has become a vehicle for pugnacious, sometimes quasi-official reactions from Beijing, suggested that the balloon reports were in line with what it called U.S. efforts to “create a Cold War atmosphere and exacerbate China-U.S. tensions.”
Plans for Mr. Blinken’s trip to Beijing firmed up in November, when Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi met in Bali and agreed to try to rein in tensions. Volatile strains have built up over Taiwan; technological barriers and bans; human rights issues in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and resulting American sanctions on Chinese officials; and, most broadly, over a growing military rivalry across Asia and the Pacific.
Mr. Blinken would be the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Beijing in over four years. After the balloon news broke, a chorus of Republican politicians in Washington urged the Biden administration to take a tougher approach to China.
“China’s brazen disregard for U.S. sovereignty is a destabilizing action that must be addressed, and President Biden cannot be silent,” Speaker Kevin McCarthy said on Twitter.
Mr. McCarthy has said that as speaker he plans to visit Taiwan — the democratically ruled island that Beijing claims as its territory — which could prompt China to hold another round of intimidating military maneuvers near the island, similar to the ones it held last year when Mr. McCarthy’s predecessor, Nancy Pelosi, visited Taiwan.
Pentagon officials have refused to disclose many details about the balloon, including its size and features, making it harder for outside experts to assess its intent and value. “We did assess that it was large enough to cause damage from the debris field if we downed it over an area,” a senior Department of Defense official told reporters.