The Cold War between the United States and China has been heating up, and the events of the past week have only added fuel to the fire. On Saturday, an F-22 Raptor fighter jet fired a single missile at a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina. The balloon, which was estimated to be the size of three buses, was carrying a payload of suspected surveillance equipment. The incident has caused a great deal of tension between the two countries, and has even led to the delay of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to China.
The story of the Chinese spy balloon is one of intrigue and farce. The United States maintains a ring of steel around China’s exclusive territorial waters, and both countries have deployed a myriad of assets in the skies, in space, and in the sea to keep tabs on the other. U.S. officials believe the balloon was part of a military intelligence mission, and it is unclear what information it was able to glean during its journey.
The incident has led to a great deal of partisan hot air. Republican lawmakers have criticized President Biden for his supposed weakness on China, while Senator Marco Rubio tweeted that “if Biden wouldn’t even shoot down a balloon, he isn’t going to do jack if China takes territory from India or Japan or invades Taiwan.” The Pentagon has since revealed that at least three balloons “briefly transited the continental United States” during the Trump administration, none of which were shot down. The Biden administration waited until the balloon neared the Atlantic Ocean before taking action, minimizing potential harm to civilians while maximizing the chances the Chinese technology in the pod could be secured intact.
The incident may be more damaging to China’s leadership than that of the United States. Beijing has been trying to show a friendlier face to the world, and Blinken’s mission to China could have heralded a turning of the page at this fraught moment. Instead, the events of the past week have only underscored the dire state of tensions. Analysts believe the incident has probably taken Chinese President Xi Jinping and his cadre by surprise, and it raises some troubling questions about factions within the Communist Party power structure.
The incident involving the Chinese spy balloon is a stark reminder of the increasingly tense standoff between the United States and China. It remains to be seen how the Biden administration will use this incident to its advantage and if the two sides can successfully resurrect the ‘Bali’ momentum.