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- China didn’t accuse the US of violating international law when the Pentagon shot down its balloon.
- That means Beijing doesn’t think the balloon’s fate broke such laws, a legal expert told the NYT.
- China has aggressively accused the US of breaking international law many times in the past.
China’s response on Sunday to the US shooting down a Chinese balloon shows that Beijing doesn’t think Washington violated international law, said a legal expert who studies China.
In an official statement after an F-22 dispatched the balloon on Saturday, Beijing accused the US of breaching international norms, but didn’t make mention of international law violations — unlike in many of its previous reactions to US actions.
“The US insisted on using force, obviously overreacting and seriously violating international practices,” the statement read.
The wording in the brief statement “reflects that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not believe downing the balloon is a clear legal violation,” Julian Ku, a professor of law at Hofstra University who studies China’s relationship with international law, told The New York Times.
“The ministry will say if something is a violation of international law, so it is significant they did not say so here,” he said, per the outlet.
In the past, Beijing has accused the US of breaking international law even for actions like imposing visa restrictions on Chinese officials. Washington had implemented the restrictions due to human rights concerns in Xinjiang.
“It contravenes international law and basic norms governing international relations and grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs. We firmly reject it,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said in March.
It’s not just the US that’s been on the receiving end of this particular barb. In July, Wang similarly said that Hague Tribunal rulings in support of Philippine claims over the South China Sea “seriously” violated international law. He did note that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken voiced support for the ruling.
In 2021, the foreign ministry blasted the US for signing the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, also saying it “seriously violates international law and basic norms governing international relations.”
China’s more muted response also comes as it replaced its foreign minister in January with a former US ambassador, Qin Gang. Since Qin took on the role, most of the ministry’s top-ranking spokespersons known for their aggression have moved to other government roles. Wang is still listed by the ministry as a spokesperson.