Tensions between the US and China were exacerbated after an alleged ‘Chinese spy balloon’ was shot down by a US fighter jet over South Carolina. It had been first spotted over the US state of Montana on Feburary 1st and had drifted across the country before ending up on the Atlantic coast.
Chinese officials have strenuously denied the allegations ledged against them by the US government. Obviously this has caued a diplomatic furore between the two countries and a visit to Beijing has now been postponed.
The origin of the balloon is Chinese but its purpose is unclear. Whilst the US claims that it is a spy balloon, China says that this is merely an excuse to attack China, stating that the balloon is for weather monitoring and had blown off course. There is historical precedent for the use of so-called spy balloons by both the US and China.
Wreakage from the balloon is currently being recovered by the US Navy. Further analysis of the debris will hopefully shed light on the capabilities and purpose of the balloon. However, it is highly unusual for a weather balloon to have such longevity, pointing to it being a more sophisticated device than China is asserting.
The question of why the balloon was sent is puzzling, as it was close to a potentially conciliatory diplomatic meeting in Beijing between Xi Jingping and Anthony Blinken, the US’s top diplomat. Whilst it is possible the balloon innocuously blew off-course, the US Pentagon has stated that they believe the balloon had the ability to maneuver beyond what would be expected.
Whether or not the purpose of the ballon was innocent or intentionally provocative, it has now caused a diplomatic incident and the rift between the US and China to deepen. Indeed, China has vowed ‘further actions’ against the US, viewing the shooting down as an act of aggression. Meanwhile, the US sees itself as a victim of Chinese spying, their territorial sovereignity and sensitive national security matters compromised. The slide into adverserial relations between the two countries continue.