Deepening Diplomatic Crisis

A Chinese balloon over the US sky adds to diplomatic crisis
"Chinese foreign ministry officials emphasized that the balloon’s journey was out of its control and urged the US not to “smear” it because of the balloon." [Representational Image]
"Chinese foreign ministry officials emphasized that the balloon’s journey was out of its control and urged the US not to “smear” it because of the balloon." [Representational Image]File

President Joe Biden’s decision to shoot down the Chinese spying balloon has added more tension to the existing strained relations of United States and the US.

The Dragon has been indulging in such surveillance and collection of intelligence information of several countries and areas of emerging strategic interest, thereby affecting nations like  Japan, India, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines.

India also targeted

Pentagon has revealed that a spying balloon had indulged in recording of the joint drill of infantry, navy and air force near Port Blair, capital of Andaman Nicobar between Dec, 2021 and Jan. 2022 which had been shared on social media also. Experts link China’s spying actions to its over ambition of acquiring the status of super power after displacing United States, hence secretly collecting military information of several countries. In this backdrop, the US has started discussion with friendly nations as these surveillance airships were being operated  by the PLA air force which have been spotted over five continents thereby endangering their sovereignty.

Mixing old technology with the modern

As per intelligence officials of the United States, it is unbelievable to create an amalgam of ancient technology with modern communications and observations capabilities to peek into intelligence networks of other nations; something successfully done by China. Hence America’s retaliation. The US officials also claim that China’s surveillance balloon efforts have been continuing for the past several years partly out of Hainan province off China’s south coast which made it easy to target and collect secret information on military assets in countries including the United States and India.

US hits back

To expose China, Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman recently organized a briefing on China’s balloon espionage and invited about 150 officials from about 40 embassies and accused PLA planners of conducting the  surveillance from the upper atmosphere at altitudes above where commercial jets fly, thereby using the balloons which have been flying  between 60,000 and 80,000 feet or even higher which is a cause of worry to several countries. US officials have shared detailed

information with these embassies of allies and partners which do recognize the fact that they can be vulnerable or susceptible to Chinese spying act which had drawn attention of Japan in 2020 when an identical object was spotted in the sky though it was taken as UFO but in reality it could have been Chinese spying balloon.

China counters the US claim

China has asked America to return its balloon’s debris and denied the claims of spying and said it is a civilian-use balloon intended for meteorology research. Chinese foreign ministry officials emphasized that the balloon’s journey was out of its control and urged the US not to “smear” it because of the balloon.

China says if the United States does not return debris from the balloon then it will be proof of Americans being dishonest and exaggerating the issue.

China’s ambassador to France Lu Shaye remarked “If a person picks up something on the street and knows who the owner is, he should return it to the owner. Lu lambasted the US government for “over-stressing” this issue, and repeated the Chinese official claim that the device was part of a civilian meteorological research effort, not espionage.

Cancellation of trip to China

Secretary of State Antony Blinken abruptly cancelled his visit to Beijing after a spying balloon was shot down by the United States; this adds to the existing bitterness between two nations, though President Joe Biden has maintained that America wants friendship and not conflict with China. Interestingly, China ignored Brigadier General Patrick Ryder’s  telephone call who exposed China while putting it on record that four spying balloons were spotted in the past also which had triggered outrage in the United states.

Genesis of spying

Gordon Chang, an author and columnist who has written several books on China says that China’s spying balloon over U.S. airspace in Montana signals that the country is preparing its citizens for war; “We know what the Chinese are doing. They’re engaged in the fastest military buildup since the Second World War. They’re trying to sanction-proof their regime, and most ominously they’re preparing China’s civilians for war.” Chinese president Xi Jinping had mentioned about the “war cabinet” after his appointment as general secretary at the National Congress in October last year. 

Advantages of balloons over satellites

Experts say that balloons have the capacity to linger over the target for several hours whereas satellites orbiting the earth may get a few minutes to snap the pictures. Balloons like drones can be remotely piloted at about 30 to 60 miles per hour and they float at high altitude winds, and paths are less predictable. Balloons are cheaper and easy to launch to target enemies’ military installations etc. Hence China has been secretly using them, but finally got exposed when US shot down a spying balloon and refused to return the debris which will be used for research.

Analysts opine that China may continue its efforts to needle the United States, India etc. which may require a counter strategy to checkmate the Dragon in future. The previous Trump regime had targeted China over the origin of Covid 19 virus from Wuhan, and Biden is also sticking to anti-China policy to protect its national interest which holds true to India also.

(K.S. Tomar, national columnist and political analyst)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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