Did US deviate from usual sanctions after China balloon incursion? GOP chairman subpoenas documents

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FILE - House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, questions Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 28, 2022. McCaul has subpoenaed Secretary of State Antony Blinken for documents related to how it handled relations with China earlier this year after a Chinese surveillance balloon was shot down over the U.S. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

WASHINGTON – The House Foreign Affairs chairman said Wednesday he subpoenaed the State Department for classified documents that could indicate whether the U.S. deviated from its plans for sanctioning China after a Chinese surveillance balloon traversed sensitive military sites across North America

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said he has subpoenaed the department’s “competitive actions” calendars, a classified list of actions the Biden administration had laid out to counter China aggression, including sanctions and export controls on Chinese companies like tech giant Huawei.

McCaul had asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken to voluntarily deliver the documents in May and accused the State Department of declining to use sanctions over the balloon in favor of continuing engagement with the Chinese government. He said the department hadn’t complied.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller defended the Biden administration's actions countering the Chinese government, saying it has “issued a record-setting number" of sanctions, export controls and other competitive actions.

“When I was in Beijing with Secretary Blinken, one of the things we heard over and over from Chinese officials is their deep protests and their deep complaints about the competitive actions that we have taken,” Miller told reporters Wednesday.

He also said that the department was in the middle of negotiating with the House committee “with an eye toward turning over documents when they short-circuited this process and issued his subpoena.”

But McCaul said in a statement that after “the State Department’s continued refusal to comply with my committee’s urgent request for crucial information," he was “left with no choice but to issue a subpoena."

McCaul has launched a series of probes into the State Department, including for classified diplomatic cables on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and allegations that the Biden administration’s special envoy for Iran, Rob Malley, may have mishandled classified information.

“We will, of course, continue to try to respond to their requests in a timely manner,” Miller said. "We have to balance that with the growing number of congressional inquiries we have gotten, including from this committee, and the committee’s shifting priorities."

Miller said members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee had logged 49 engagements with the State Department since January.

In February, the U.S. military shot down the suspected Chinese spy balloon off the Carolina coast after it crossed over sensitive military sites. The Biden administration, citing imagery from American U-2 spy plains, said the balloon was equipped to detect and collect intelligence signals as part of a huge, military-linked aerial surveillance program that targeted more than 40 countries.

China insisted the flyover was an accident involving a civilian aircraft and threatened repercussions.