«Observing the balloon in flight closely has allowed us to better understand this Chinese program and further confirmed that its mission was surveillance,» said the official, who discussed intelligence matters on condition of anonymity.

The official said that Chinese surveillance balloons had briefly flown over the continental United States once before during the Biden administration and at least three times while Donald Trump was president, which was discovered only after he left office.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning confirmed that a balloon seen over Latin America also belonged to China, saying it was on a civilian test flight, had limited steering ability and had entered space unintentionally. air from the countries of the region.

«China is a responsible country and we always act in accordance with international law,» he told a regular press conference on Monday.

Mao did not say which Chinese company or entity owned the balloon that was shot down in the United States, but said the government would «firmly safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of relevant Chinese companies.»

For China, the US reaction to the balloon suggests not much would have come of Blinken’s visit anyway, Benjamin Ho, an assistant professor in the China program at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told NBC News. .

«If the Americans downplayed this issue, then the Chinese might take it as a sign that the Americans were really sincere about meeting with them and didn’t want this escalation of bad relations to continue,» he said. «But in this case that didn’t happen, so in other words, we’re back to square one.»

Jude Blanchette, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that while the balloon incident was a huge misstep by Beijing, postponing Blinken’s trip was «sort of a knee jerk reaction» that could demonstrate the White House decision. concern for domestic politics.

“It shows the deep sensitivities to the optics of these early moves by the administration to restore relations,” he said.

Zhu Feng, director of the Institute of International Studies at Nanjing University, said China will remain a contentious issue as the 2024 US election approaches.

«American politicians are trying to make the Chinese threat bigger, using the Chinese factor to intensify Americans’ sense of crisis and promote internal cohesion,» he said.

However, he said he expected communication between the two countries to resume, noting that Biden and Xi have spoken on the phone several times in the past two years despite bilateral tensions.

«China does not want a new cold war between the two parties, much less a complete disengagement,» he said. «What China wants most is to develop its own economy and the lives of its people.»

Peter Alexander and megan lebowitz contributed.