China and the U.S.: Alleged Surveillance Balloon


The diplomatic relationship between China and the United States of America has been causing news headlines as we ushered in the new month of February. Sources date back to January 28th 2023, when a foreign balloon, identified as originating from China was spotted over the USA and other North American territory, including Canada and Alaska. The high-altitude balloon stirred heated political discourse between Washington D.C. and Beijing.

Upon discovery of the balloon, both American and Canadian national security units classified it as a surveillance balloon – prompting discourse of China spying on the United States. The political tactic of using surveillance balloons dates back to the Cold War era, where politically opposing countries often used them to spread leaflets, equipment or even bombs.

The discovery and monitoring of the surveillance device put further strain on the U.S’ and China’s diplomatic relationship, which had shown some improvement following the end of Trump’s administration. Prior to this discovery, the U.S Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, was to lead the country’s first political delegation to China since the beginning of the Biden administration. However, upon finding the security threat, Mr Blinken’s trip to Beijing was cancelled until both American and Chinese administrations settled the matter.

Correspondence from China stated that this balloon was not a state-operated surveillance balloon, but rather an off-course civilian balloon used to conduct meteorological research. On the contrary, the balloon was spotted above Montana, a state that authorities claim has a significant amount of national military personnel – strengthening suspicion of a state-owned surveillance balloon.

China’s response to this accusation from Washington D.C. has been rather laid-back, contrary to what many would have expected it to be, particularly considering both countries’ fragile political relationship. Furthermore, the Pentagon reported that another similar surveillance balloon was spotted around the Caribbean and parts of Latin America, weakening Chinese claims. 

Chinese responses to further accusations have been that the balloons were above these airspaces “by mistake’ and were “seriously deviated”. The Pentagon and other media outlets shared their frustrations regarding China’s reluctance to divulge complete information.

Following instructions from U.S. President Joe Biden, the American military shot down the balloon along the coast of South California, on February 4th. Debris and technology salvaged from the balloon are currently under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Discourse concerning whether China has the right to the fallen debris took an interesting turn when a Chinese official commented “the airship is China’s, not the U.S.’.”

This incident has sparked significant discourse around whether a mended diplomatic relationship between the two nations is a possibility. As American authorities investigate the debris, many international fronts await to see how this diplomatic row will unfold.


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