China sacks weather bureau chief in shake-up after balloon furore

A purported spy balloon that strayed into US airspace has set off tense exchanges between the US and China. - The Straits Times/ANN

BEIJING, Feb 6 (Bloomberg): China replaced its national weather bureau chief just after the United States revealed a balloon that Beijing said was meant to gather climate and meteorological data was flying over its territory.

was flying over its territory, fueling speculation that the move was connected to Beijing’s claim it was a climate research vehicle.

The State Council, the Chinese government’s cabinet, made the announcement involving Zhuang Guotai on Friday, though the statement didn’t give a reason for his dismissal.

China said hours after announcing Zhuang’s removal that balloon travelled into US territory by accident. The China Meteorological Administration didn’t name a replacement for him.

It’s unclear whether the decision was linked to the balloon, which China said was gathering climate data and the US later shot down. The Chinese government is reshuffling key personnel in departments across its vast bureaucracy before a meeting of the National People’s Congress in March, when the process should be completed.

Zhuang is 60 years old, typically the age when Chinese officials move into roles in the legislature or political advisory bodies before retiring at 65. He was named to an advisory position in the northwestern province of Gansu in January.

Still the timing of the dismissal is curious. It came just after the US Defense Department said it was monitoring a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon over sensitive nuclear missile sites in Montana.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said Monday at a regular press briefing in Beijing that she had nothing to add to the announcement that Zhuang was dismissed. Repeated calls to the nation’s meteorological administration were unanswered.

The uproar over the balloon flying across the US prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone a trip to Beijing, one that would have been the first such visit in more than four years.

Blinken’s trip could have included a meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, whose talks with President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Bali in November led to an easing of tensions. - Bloomberg

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