Chinese spy balloon intensifies Chinese-American relations

By Lucy Farringer / News and Sports Reporter 

A Chinese spy balloon was shot down after floating across the U.S. in early Feb., launching a wave of concern on Capitol Hill as well as increasing tensions between China and the U.S.

The balloon, which drifted over Idaho and Montana before moving towards the Carolinas, was detected by the Pentagon on Feb. 2, as a Chinese surveillance balloon. After the discovery, there was a question as to whether the government would shoot down the floating object; however, President Biden ordered the balloon not to be shot down so as to prevent the risk of debris hitting people on the ground. 

Conversations were also swirling regarding Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken’s weekend trip to Beijing which was scheduled for only days after the balloon’s discovery. On Feb. 3, it was announced that Blinken’s trip was canceled. After the announcement, Blinken reiterated American views on the balloon saying the surveillance was an “irresponsible act” and a “clear violation of U.S. sovereignty and international law.”

Once the spy balloon reached the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4, F-22 fighter jets immediately shot down the surveillance device. The Navy and Coast Guard instantly started to retrieve pieces of the balloon and its spying equipment. The pieces gathered from the balloon’s debris will likely add to the country’s knowledge on Chinese spy technology and provide further insight on the information the Chinese gained while the balloon was in flight. 

It is a known fact that U.S.-Chinese tensions have already been high over the past years. The governments have disputed over several issues regarding human rights issues, advanced technology and the island of Taiwan, so the discovery and destruction of this spy balloon only further damaged the two countries’ relationship. 

“International and political relations between the U.S. and China are very complicated,” Upper School World Languages teacher Jingli Jurca said.

Spy Balloon: A US Air Force Pilot flies above the balloon over the central United States on 3 February 2023. Photo Courtesy of the US Department of Defense.

When first inquired about the spy device, the Chinese government refused to acknowledge the spy balloon’s true purpose. They claimed it was merely a civilian balloon that had floated out of control and accidentally drifted into U.S. territory; however, this response raises the question: if it was an accident, why didn’t the Chinese government simply just warn the U.S. of its arrival?

“When a country releases such a high technology device and it accidentally flies out of control, the country’s immediate responsibility should be to inform the other country,” Jurca said. 

China’s lack of acknowledgment of their balloon added to the illegitimacy of their response that claimed the balloon was not for spying use. 

The Biden administration, unsatisfied with China’s excuse, emphasized their thoughts on the matter, saying it was “a violation of our sovereignty” during a statement on Feb. 4. China again accentuated that the balloon was a mistake and continued to casually apologize to the U.S. government. 

Although the Chinese government was initially unconcerned at the U.S.’s responses to the balloon, their indifference towards the matter didn’t last long. When the balloon was shot down in the Atlantic, the Chinese turned their full attention towards the issue and started blaming the U.S. for violating rights, worried about what the U.S. might uncover during their detection of the balloon. 

The Chinese government emphasized its disapproval of the decision, declaring the U.S.’s response was a huge overreaction. They even indicated that they might further respond to the issue, saying that they “retain the right to respond further.”

While this spy balloon is the first of its kind to float over U.S. territory for days on end, it is not the first Chinese surveillance balloon to conduct spying. A U.S. official said that China has previously developed and sent afloat a fleet of balloons for spying purposes across five continents. 

These balloons usually float at around 60,000 feet of altitude and have strayed only slightly into American territory in the past, three times during the Trump administration and once during the Biden administration. All of these previous spying attempts by Chinese balloons didn’t intrude U.S. territory as immensely as the spy balloon shot down on Feb. 4. 

As for the Chinese technology and spy information uncovered from the balloon’s wreckage, the public has yet to know the details of the balloon, and it will likely stay that way. 

“The balloon is under analysis. What the public knows is only what the intelligence is able to release. We can not demand the release of everything,” Jurca said. 

The public might not have access to information on the Chinese spying strategies and technology, but they are aware of the diplomatic conflict the spy balloon created and the significance of both the Chinese and U.S. responses to the matter. 


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