Chinese Balloon Flying over US Mainland Increases Tension

Alan Cai

February 3, 2023

Update (2/4/2023): The Chinese Balloon has been shot down over the Atlantic Ocean.

A large Chinese balloon the size of three buses has been closely observed traveling over Montana, the Great Plains, and seems to be drifting toward the Midwest. The Pentagon has been notified and monitored its progress since Tuesday and announced the discovery on Thursday.

The Chinese government claimed it was a weather balloon that floated off track. Weather experts in the United States are divided on the claim, but general consensus has concluded that the claim is plausible. However, the Pentagon and most foreign policy experts find the claim dubious.

The White House has chosen to not shoot down the balloon citing that the large debris coming out from the sky would likely endanger Americans or property, even in sparsely populated regions. F-22 fighter jets have been on alert since the sighting and are poised to take any necessary measures upon request.

General Mark Milley, Chairman of the United States Military Joint Chiefs of Staff and retired General Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Defense, strongly urged the administration against shooting down the plane on the grounds that the potential harms outweighed the benefits. Although small, the risk of injuring Americans or damaging property existed and the balloon, even if it were a surveillance balloon, would have little to no valuable intelligence.

Defense experts have been rather speculative on the purpose of the Chinese balloon over US airspace, if intentionally aimed. The balloon did fly over US Intercontinental Ballistic Silos in Montana(long range nuclear missiles capable of reaching anywhere in the world) and a handful of US air force bases but no information gathered from flying a balloon could not be obtained by alternative means such as low-orbit satellites, of which the Chinese government employs in large numbers. China does have a notable ballistic missile capability(non-intercontinental) but that likely did not play a role in the decision to pursue this strategy.

As a result of the balloon sighting, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi(officially known as Director of the Office of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Chinese Communist Party) to postpone their long-anticipated summit until the event was further investigated.

There may be more under the hood to the entire ordeal. An official Chinese statement posted on the Chinese Foreign Ministry website claimed, “It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes.” The Chinese government is known to keep relatively tight-lipped and precise in its wording to carefully craft public image and retain credibility. It is quite interesting that China would use the phrase, “mainly meteorological” as if there may be auxiliary purposes. If the balloon were a meteorological balloon, it would cease to have hany alternative purpose and the Chinese government would likely rephrase and use something similar to “used for meteorological research” instead. It feels as if China is in the midst of crafting a carefully worded excuse for its potentially malicious actions.

It can also be inferred that the United States Department of Defense understands more regarding the balloon than the public may comprehend. It is rather interesting when the White House claims fear of potentially hurting civilians when the balloon flew over sparesly populated areas of Montana, especially the ICBM nuclear base, of which there likely were few local residents, if any. The threat of a balloon landing and causing severe damage is also minimal. Although no claims can be definitively made, the balloon could potentially be carrying anything ranging from chemical weapons, biological weapons, nuclear material, incendiary material, or anything in between. If that were the case, then the Pentagon does have the right to not keep the public informed while attempting to keep the balloon in the air.

If the Chinese government was truthful in its statement, perhaps the balloon which crossed over a major air force base as well as ICBM silos, and the one currently traversing various parts of Latin America, are victims of the slimmest of coincidences.