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WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden said in his State of the Union address on Tuesday that he would cooperate with great power rival China, but vowed “to protect our country,” a reference to a Chinese spy balloon that travelled across America last week.

“I’m committed to work with China where we can advance American interests and benefit the world,” Biden said. “But make no mistake about it: as we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did.”

Beijing denied the balloon was an espionage device.

Chinese spy balloon flies over the United States, Pentagon says

Biden had been expected to address competition with China, but his speechwriters would have added that remark after the balloon traversed the skies above the United States - dominating the news cycle - before a US fighter jet shot it down over the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who sat with other members of the cabinet in the House of Representatives as Biden spoke, canceled a planned trip to Beijing amid the uproar.

Republicans seized on the balloon incident to assail Biden’s decision, based on military advice, not to shoot it down sooner for fear debris could harm people on land.

Republicans, who took control of the House of Representatives last month, have pushed a hard line in dealings with Beijing, but it is one of the few truly bipartisan sentiments in the deeply divided US Congress.

Biden touted legislation passed last year with strong support from both his fellow Democrats and Republicans that boosted the US semiconductor industry, and promised more.

“I will make no apologies that we are investing to make America strong. Investing in American innovation, in industries that will define the future, that China intends to be dominating,” Biden said.

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