Pentagon Tracking Alleged Chinese 'Spy Balloon'

    Pentagon Tracking Alleged Chinese 'Spy Balloon'
    Last updated Feb 03, 2023
    Image credit: Reuters [via Al Jazeera]


    • The US Pentagon on Thursday said it was monitoring what it suspects to be a high-altitude Chinese surveillance balloon over the US mainland. China claims it is a "civilian airship" for "research, mainly meteorological, purposes" that had blown off course.
    • US Defense officials say the balloon passed over sensitive areas, allegedly to collect intelligence, and was spotted over the US state of Montana, where some 150 silos for intercontinental ballistic missiles are located at Malmstrom Air Force Base.
    • To avoid endangering people with falling debris, the US military reportedly advised against shooting down the object, which has been observed by the US Air Force for several days and is estimated to be the size of three buses.
    • The Pentagon said it was "confident" that it was a surveillance balloon, flying at an altitude above commercial air traffic, and that it originated in China but did not pose a "military or physical threat."
    • The news of the alleged spy balloon prompted US Sec. of State Antony Blinken to postpone his upcoming visit to China, with one US military official saying the incident was "serious" not due to intelligence gains, but simply the "audacity" of China.
    • Pentagon officials said that the balloon was a violation of US sovereignty, and the balloon will likely remain over the continental US through the weekend.


    Pro-China narrative

    Stories about the alleged Chinese spy balloon are mushrooming, providing fertile ground for spreading the "Chinese threat" narrative. In the age of surveillance satellites, the assumption that Beijing is resorting to easily detectable balloons is absurd. The catchy "revelation" is primarily about undermining constructive China-US dialogue, and it is the US that is second to none in terms of using spy techniques on the PRC.

    Anti-China narrative

    Since everything points to it being a Chinese spy balloon, the Biden administration must abandon its soft stance toward Beijing and respond decisively. With its blatant disregard for US territorial integrity, Beijing continues to fuel tensions, which is why Blinken's China trip needed to be canceled. This is a pivotal moment for Biden's leadership as well — the GOP is watching closely for a strong response.

    Cynical narrative

    In recent years, similar incidents have occurred time and again. Should the object prove to be a spy balloon, however, China would by no means be the only country that has recently explored the upper regions of the atmosphere for surveillance purposes via stratospheric balloons or high-altitude drones. The development of this technology is also being driven forward in the US. Situations like this are not unusual, despite the hype.

    Nerd narrative

    There is a 10% chance that there will be active warfare between the US and China before 2027, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

    Establishment split



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