It looked to be quietly cruising through American airspace prior to being shot down. However, on the ground, the alleged use of a spy balloon set off a diplomatic tumult that, in the opinion of analysts, has harmed efforts to mend fences between the United States and China.
“For Beijing, this episode is extremely embarrassing. According to Craig Singleton, a senior China scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington, D.C., think tank and lobbying group, it “reinforces worries that most Western nations rightfully hold about China’s great power ambitions.”
‘Major Propaganda Success’
A “major propaganda success” for Beijing, he continued, had been undone by Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s decision to postpone his trip there indefinitely on Friday, “effectively announcing that America has despatched its highest ambassador to China and not the other way around.”
The balloon over the United States was “an irresponsible act,” Blinken said in a phone call with senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi on Friday. “China’s decision to take this action on the eve of my visit is detrimental to the substantive discussions that we were prepared to have,” Blinken added. Blinken’s visit would have been the first to China by a U.S. secretary of state since 2018.
Chinese officials are currently in damage control mode, according to Singleton.
The enormous white orb, which is roughly the size of three school buses, was first noticed above Montana, which is home to one of America’s three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base. It has been traveling southeastward at 60,000 feet across Kansas and Missouri.
Shoot Down Balloon
When asked why the U.S. did not shoot down the balloon, Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the government had ruled it out due to the “potential for debris and property damage” to people and structures on the ground. Ryder described the balloon as a “high-altitude surveillance balloon” and said that the “government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information.”
President Joe Biden was initially briefed about the balloon on Tuesday, according to Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, who revealed to reporters on Friday.
Biden claimed on Saturday that the United States will “take care of it,” but later U.S. authorities confirmed the plane had gone down off the coast of South Carolina.
The country was then awash in interest in it. Social media has been flooded with fuzzy recordings, and queries like “where is the spy balloon now? On Google, the terms “spy balloon tracker” and “are popular.”
In a statement released on Friday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry acknowledged ownership of the balloon but said it was “a civilian airship utilized for research, primarily meteorological objectives.”
Wang Yi and Blinken “communicated on how to deal with unintentional situations in a calm and professional way,” according to a separate statement released on Saturday.
After the Pentagon claimed to have seen another Chinese spy balloon traveling over Latin America but without releasing any more information on its location, the readout came hours later.
The assertion that the balloon was used for espionage has also been refuted by Chinese media sources, and online users have also made fun of the assertion.
Other Reports, Demanding Answers
Leading Republicans in Congress are pressing the Biden administration for information on the alleged Chinese spy balloon that has been circling the northern United States for the past few days.
They attacked President Joe Biden directly, claiming that the episode shows that American policies and stance do not discourage China. Numerous well-known Republicans concurred that America should have shot the balloon down.
Three people with knowledge of the incident told NBC News on Friday that staff members for the “Gang of Eight,” a bipartisan group of leaders on the Hill, received a confidential briefing on the balloon on Thursday afternoon.
One of the eight politicians, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, tweeted late on Thursday that he was asking for a meeting for the group, although it’s probable that the majority of the leadership had already departed for the weekend.