The Chinese Spy Balloon

 A civilian airship marked with the Chinese flag was spotted over Billings, Montana, and immediately reported to the authorities on the first of February. Traveling to government and Pentagon officials, the news of a mysterious machine in the U.S. airspace alarmed the White House, and immediate action was taken. Two days later, the Chinese Foreign Ministry conveyed that the object was a weather balloon that entered the U.S. atmosphere by accident. 

Taking place only a few days before Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken was supposed to visit Beijing to discuss their diplomatic relationship, this unlikely occurrence halted any activity that could strengthen China and the U.S.’s bond. In an interview with The New York Times, Blinken went on to describe this event as “a clear violation of U.S. sovereignty and international law, that it’s an irresponsible act, and that the PRC’s decision to take this action on the eve of [his] planned visit is detrimental to the subsidence of discussions that were prepared to have.”

The Biden Administration ordered the airship to be shot down on February 4. A Langley Air Force Base F-22 fighter jet shot the balloon down off the coast of Surfside Beach, South Carolina. According to Melissa Dalton, the Assistant Secretary of Defense, in an interview with CBS, the balloon was nearly “200 feet tall with a jetliner payload.” Before the balloon was shot down, U.S. surveillance planes took images of the machine while it was still in flight. Found was beyond-advanced intelligence surveillance equipment and technology capable of conducting electronic communications–excessive machinery not needed for the objective of a weather balloon. 

The further examination of the balloon was key in concluding this device had spy-related pursuits. Sophomore Simon Yu elaborated, “If the true purpose was for meteorology, permission would have been acquired. As a result, I believe the balloon’s purpose was spy related.” Sophomore John-Paul D’Agostino said, “[Whether it was spy or meteorology-related], either way, it’s a breach of security. They were not authorized. I would believe it is for meteorology, however.” 

Since the shooting down of the balloon, many conferences and hearings have taken place. From the beginning, Blinken and his Chinese counterpart, Director of the Office of the Central Foreign Affairs Wang Yi, have conversed with each other. Both representatives have expressed disapproval in regard to how the balloon situation was handled. According to The New York Times, at the annual Munich Security Conference, Yi expressed, “We asked the United States to handle it calmly and professionally based on consultation with the Chinese side. Regrettably, the United States disregarded these facts and used advanced fighter jets and downed a balloon with its missiles. This is, I would say, absurd and hysterical.”

Many wonder what the future holds for these two world powers. “This issue can lead to something more major very fast; the issue of spying and war could lead to possible conflict that can interfere with our daily lives,” said sophomore Catherine Christakos. Yu agreed and added, “The relationship will be tarnished further because of the possible spying allegations. The sighting of the balloons complicates things because no one knows the truth.”

No new date for Blinken’s visit to Beijing has been released to the press. Biden spoke on planning to conference with China’s President Xi Jinping on affairs such as their relationship and, most notably, the Russian-Ukraine War. Following the shooting of the first balloon, a second Chinese surveillance balloon was spotted over Latin America two days later; the balloon was shot down over the coast of Alaska.