The Chinese balloon suspected to be a tool utilized for espionage against the United States was recently authorized by the United States government to be shot down over the Atlantic Ocean so American lives would not be at risk of falling debris. The subsequent popping of the balloon has sparked yet another controversy between the United States and China. Chinese officials claim that the balloon was a civilian airship conducting meteorological research, blown off course due to stronger than anticipated winds and limited steering capability aboard the balloon. American authorities and politicians alike, however, claim that the balloon was surveilling American land, citing that the balloon would be able to take clearer pictures than a satellite could. The U.S. government confirmed on February 9th that the balloon was indeed used for espionage purposes, taking pictures of sensitive military areas in the United States.
The Chinese Balloon first entered the American Air Defense Identification Zone north of the Aleutian Islands – which are an archipelago of volcanic islands off the coast of Alaska – on January 28th. At 60,000 feet, the balloon then traveled over Canada and reentered the United States over Northern Idaho. Its course roughly took it over Montana, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, East Tennessee, and South Carolina before being taken down in the Atlantic Ocean near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The balloon’s journey took around nine days from entering Alaskan airspace to being popped above the East coast.
Despite the widespread attention this phenomenon has garnered, it is not the first time a Chinese balloon has traveled across the United States’ airspace. In fact, U.S. officials claim that Chinese balloons have drifted over the United States at least three times during Donald Trump’s presidency. A prominent reason this most recent balloon has stirred such a maelstrom, however, is the fact that tensions between the United States and China have been escalating in recent years, mainly disputes over Taiwan. The Chinese government claims that Taiwan is a part of China, and is not afraid to force Taiwan to become another Chinese province. The United States has stated many times that they will directly support and defend Taiwan, able to retaliate quickly due to the many American military bases in Japan, Guam, and Hawaii. Additionally, Japan plans to aid in defending against China, as the Japanese government plans to increase military spending to strike back against China should conflict erupt.
For now, the status quo between the United States and China remains fickle and rocky. Stress is mounting in the United States government, as they claim China did not answer their crisis hotline call to sort out the controversy, frustrating U.S. officials even more. This lack of communication is not new, however; U.S. officials struggling to get into contact with Chinese officials stretches back decades. Many fear that this lack of communication on the crisis hotline could have disastrous consequences, as this same form of communication aided in preventing conflict erupting between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. China has the next move; the United States waits anxiously for the global superpower to respond.