“Speculations and conjectures do not favor an adequate solution of the matter before it is clarified,” said the Chinese government spokesman, quoting Mao. But in Washington they believe that everything is very clear. In the midst of extreme tension with USA, China launched a surveillance balloon over his rival’s territory. From Beijing they say that it is just a “scientific observer” In Washington they are convinced that it is a “spy balloon” in search of information on military development in bases in the northwest of the country. Military analysts see it as a “trial balloon” Chinese in a complex situation due to the expansionism of the giant in the China Sea and its intention to recover sovereignty over Taiwan. And in the background is “the big bid” between the two powers to see who will lead the scientific-technological revolution in the second half of the century.
The immediate consequence was the suspension of a trip scheduled for months by the Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, to Beijing. Blinken was scheduled to meet with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, on Sunday during a two-day visit to China, the first of its kind by a US secretary of state in nearly six years and the first by a Biden administration cabinet member. It will be necessary to let the tension pass to reschedule a meeting that the two parties say they want to hold.
The day before, a witness had captured the images of what appeared to be a high-altitude balloon over Billings, Montana. Later it was learned that she had flown over the aleutian islandsin it Bering straitbetween Russia and USAto fly over Canada and reach the northwest of the country. It would also have been observed from a commercial aircraft. The event set off all the security alarms. The Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austincalled a meeting of senior military commanders at the Pentagon and reported the threat to President Joe Biden. Observation rockets were launched and the possibility of shooting down the balloon was assessedwhich was discarded a few hours later due to the potential risk that parts of the device could fall on populated areas.
A senior defense official said that “We are taking all necessary steps to protect against the collection of sensitive information by foreign intelligence.” The capabilities of this particular instrument are unclear. Balloons are one of the oldest forms of surveillance technology. They were used during the First World War. The Japanese military used them to firebomb the United States during World War II. They were also widely used by USA and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. All that was replaced by satellites that fulfill the same function from space, are highly efficient and less detectable. Although with new technologies, the balloons seem to have a second chance. The Pentagon even reported a few months ago that it was considering the possibility of incorporating high-altitude inflatables into its surveillance networks. These balloons usually fly between 24 km and 37 km from the earth’s surface (80,000 feet-120,000 feet), well above what commercial airliners fly.
Although this globe would seem to be more a “signal” or a “trial balloon” than a real security threat. “Beijing is probably trying to signal Washington: ‘Although we want to improve ties, we also we are always ready for sustained competition, using any means necessary‘, without seriously inflaming tensions,” He Yuan Ming explained to the BBC. “And what better tool for that than a seemingly innocuous balloon.”
China insisted through a statement from its Foreign Ministry that it was just a technical problem. “Affected by the west wind and with a limited capacity for self-control, the aircraft severely deviated from the intended route,” reads the official statement. “China regrets that the aircraft diverted to the United States due to force majeure. China will continue to maintain communication with the US government to properly handle the unexpected situation,” he added.
Professor Benjamin Ho, coordinator of the China program at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, adds to the “trial balloon” theory. “They have other means to spy on the American infrastructure, or whatever information they want to get. The balloon was to send a signal to the Americans, and also to see how they reacted”, he explained.
Some analysts even believe that China wanted the whole world to know about the incident. “It is possible that the objective was to be detected. China could be using the balloon to demonstrate that it has a sophisticated technological capability to penetrate US airspace without risking serious escalation.. In this sense, a balloon is quite an ideal option,” said Arthur Holland Michel of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.
The escalation of tension occurs after several incidents in the China Sea, such as the constant incursions of Chinese fighter-bombers over Taiwan, Japan and other countries in the area that intensified after the visit of the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. , to Taipei last August. And it happened when Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was finishing a tour that took him to the Philippines where he signed an agreement of military cooperation that will allow the Pentagon to use and develop nine bases in the Asian country in a clear challenge to China.
But the mood around Beijing-Washington relations had already soured last week over a memo from US Air Force Gen. michael minhanrevealed by NBC, in which he warned that his “gut instinct” tells him to be prepared for a war with Chinaand not only in theory, but “within the next two years”. Now, floating above that incendiary atmosphere, the Chinese globe appears.
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