Chinese spy balloon shot down, a diplomatic crisis? How the US-China relations may change

Beijing expressed "strong dissatisfaction and protest" at the American actions, while Washington spoke of an "unacceptable violation."
chinese spy balloon

Beijing expressed “strong dissatisfaction and protest” at the American actions, while Washington spoke of an “unacceptable violation.” This is not the first time balloons have entered American skies. There have already been three cases during the Trump administration.

Chinese spy balloon, what happened

A Chinese spy balloon was found flying over the US for several days last week. It was spotted over Montana skies. When it reached a safe place – that is, the Atlantic – it was shot down on orders from President Biden. Who spoke of a “successful” action coordinated with Canada.

He ordered the operation on Wednesday, but it was necessary to wait until the balloon reached and passed the coast. Indeed, the impact of debris was feared. The affair is likely to worsen relations between the two countries.

Indeed, China reacted by claiming that the balloon had ended up in U.S. airspace by mistake. And, that it was doing meteorological studies. Beijing, therefore, in a Foreign Ministry note “expressed its strong dissatisfaction and strongly protested the shooting down of its civilian unmanned airship.”

The explanation from China: meteorological studies

China “has repeatedly informed the U.S. side, after making due verifications, that the airship is for civilian use and that it entered U.S. airspace due to force majeure, which was entirely accidental,” the note further reads. At the same time, Beijing “clearly requested the United States to handle the matter properly in a calm, professional and sober manner.” A U.S. Defense Department spokesman also said the balloon posed no military threat to ground personnel.

According to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, however, the spy balloon was an attempt by China to surveil strategic sites in the U.S. Another had also been spotted in recent hours, flying over Latin America.

Chinese authorities meanwhile have relieved the head of the National Meteorological Service, Zhuang Guotai, of his post after the diplomatic incident caused by the spy balloon that flew over American skies.

Chinese spy balloon shot down by an F-22

A Pentagon official reported that the balloon was hit with a single AIM-9X missile fired from an F-22 that departed from Virginia. Navy divers are working to locate the wreckage of the balloon. Recovery operations could go on several days. But they began soon after the wreckage ended up in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Navy and Coast Guard ships that had been alerted arrived on the scene.

The remains of the Chinese spy balloon will go to an FBI lab for analysis by experts from U.S. intelligence agencies.

Will the relation between the US and China worsen?

After the incident, it thus risks worsening the already tense climate between Washington and Beijing. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has postponed a trip to China scheduled for these hours. However, China points out that neither side had ever announced that there would be a visit.

“The spy balloon was a provocation and was tremendously damaging to bilateral relations,” Lyle Morris, senior analyst at the Asia Society Policy Institute, commented. “It is a provocative move, it is irrelevant whether the sending of the balloon was intentional or not,” he added.

As specialist William Kim-quoted explains to France Presse, the shape of the balloon resembles that of a large weather probe. With some differences that would seem, however, to demonstrate the purpose of strategic monitoring. Specifically noted under the balloon is some equipment useful for guidance and data collection.

According to General John Ferrari of the American Enterprise Institute, the overflight activity may have served the Chinese to test the American ability to detect threats. And to find “holes in the air defense warning system.”

The precedents: similar surveillance balloons intercepted during Trump administration

A senior U.S. defense official told CNN that there have been three instances during the Trump administration in which China briefly flew over the continental United States with a surveillance balloon.

“They briefly transited the continental U.S. at least three times during the previous administration and once that we know of at the beginning of this administration. But never for a period of time like this,” explained Mark Esper, former defense secretary under former U.S. President.

Read also: The world is moving East: how and when will China overtake the US as largest economy 

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