The biggest story this past week was the balloon that came from China, which went across most of the United States until it was shot down off the coast of South Carolina. It was not just a small, empty balloon; it was the size of three buses and contained equipment. The Chinese government claims it was a weather balloon that veered off target, while the United States government says it was used for spying.
There was a debate whether the balloon should have been shot down earlier. Those who argue it should have been shot down earlier say that by letting it continue to traverse across the county passing sensitive areas, it gave the Chinese information that could be used to damage United States security. On the other hand, shooting the balloon down in an area such as Montana, which may be less populated than other states, risked property damage or loss of life due to falling debris. Also, if you shoot down the balloon over land, the chance of obtaining useful portions of it to examine would be diminished. It is better for it to fall into water. Furthermore, the United States was able to monitor the balloon to see what technology is being used by China. The Pentagon recommended that they wait until it crossed over water. Of course, there are those who are criticizing the President for waiting too long. These people would have criticized him no matter what. If they had shot it down over Montana, they would have said that the President was reckless for putting lives in danger. They would have claimed that he did it over Montana because it is a red state (Republican) instead of shooting it down over a blue state (Democrat).
You don’t have to be an expert in intelligence-gathering to know that it’s better to acquire information without the target knowing. If they’re aware, they will try to limit access to the information or try to limit the damage that knowledge of the information would cause. Therefore, from an information-gathering perspective, using a large balloon that would definitely be discovered made no sense.
China may have had another reason to send up the balloon. They wanted to send the United States a message: “We have the ability to go into your airspace whenever we want. If the United States wants to play hardball with us, we have the ability to do so.”
It was not mere coincidence that it happened right before Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was supposed to be going to China to meet his Chinese counterpart. One of the issues in dispute relates to Taiwan, which China considers to be part of China. United States’ support for Taiwan has increased, especially since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Many people see the parallel between the Russia-Ukraine relationship and the China-Taiwan relationship. China is not very happy with increased United States support for Taiwan. By acting in a manner that they knew would cause a delay in the talks, China was telling the administration that they are not interested in hearing the United States’ justification for its position on Taiwan.
It’s also possible that this flare-up was done by China for domestic political reasons. President Xi received criticism for China’s zero-Covid policy of lockdowns and then going to the opposite extreme of opening the country with few safeguards. Many people ended up needlessly dying from Covid. Since the Chinese government is not transparent in reporting deaths, it is widely believed that the official tallies are vastly underreported. Also, the Chinese economy has suffered. To make matters worse for China, the United States economy is doing better than expected. More than a half a million jobs were created last month. The unemployment rate is at its lowest since 1969 and inflation is declining faster than expected. One way to take people’s mind off their own economic situation is to create a diplomatic crisis and then get the people to rally around the flag.
Soon we should be able to find out what was really going on. Was it a weather balloon that veered off course as claimed by the Chinese or an intelligence-gathering instrument that was deliberately sent to spy on sensitive areas in the United States?