The White House has been accused of “dithering” as it faces up to the geopolitical ramifications of a suspected Chinese spy balloon drifting across the U.S. in a “brazen intrusion” into American airspace.
The high-altitude aircraft—which the U.S. has been tracking over its airspace for a few days—was sighted on Wednesday and Thursday over Montana, and is believed to have traveled over western Canada and Alaska.
A senior defense official told reporters that the Pentagon had “very high confidence” that it was a Chinese high-altitude balloon collecting information of sensitive sites within America, according to the Associated Press.
However, the Pentagon has decided not to shoot it down over safety concerns for people on the ground, despite demands from Republicans to do so. Such balloons can be shot down, but controlling their descent can prove difficult.
The emergence of the balloon in U.S. airspace comes just days before U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was anticipated to travel to Beijing to meet the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping—the first such visit since the Donald Trump administration. The trip has now been postponed. One national security analyst suggested the two coinciding placed President Joe Biden in a bind.
“There’s clearly dithering, there’s been a lot of dithering at the White House over what to do,” Rebecca Grant, a national security analyst and aerospace expert at IRIS Independent Research, told Newsweek.
“It’s interesting that they announced it because there were pictures, so they had to say something, but there’s been a lot of dithering,” she added. “They keep telling us their strategy with China is to invest and compete, but hey: it’s just not cutting it at this point. Americans do not want Chinese spy balloons over our nuclear bases, so they’re going to have to think about how to handle that now and maybe in the future. China would shoot it down if it was ours.”
The U.S.’s recent diplomatic relations with China have been a mixed bag. A trip by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan—which China treats as part of its territory—in August 2022 enflamed tensions and prompted military drills.
Since then, the Biden administration has hoped to rebuild the relationship between the two superpowers. But the presence of the spy balloon could be a tactical reminder of China’s capabilities.
“Beijing is probably trying to signal to Washington: ‘While we want to improve ties, we are also ever ready for sustained competition, using any means necessary,’ without severely inflaming tensions,” He Yuan Ming, an air-power analyst, told the BBC. “And what better tool for this than a seemingly innocuous balloon.”
While senior administration officials have stressed that the reconnaissance the balloon could do would be of limited value to the Chinese compared to the information they could acquire through other means, “someone in China thinks it can collect something of value,” Grant said.
She added: “They may be wrong about that, but what bothers me is China’s military sends this balloon or balloons over right at the time that Blinken is planning this visit, and that suggests a lack of coordination—and that’s scary. Maybe they did it on purpose—and that’s bad—or the Chinese Foreign Ministry just found out and someone’s going to get fired.”
Grant said this was “part of the puzzle of China,” i.e. knowing “how to deter their brazen grey-area military activities.” Before Blinken announced he had suspended the trip, she noted: “It’s tough for Blinken: does he want to go and drink tea in China with the balloon over the U.S.? It’s very awkward.”
While there is one spy balloon that is currently traveling over America, Canada said on Friday that it was tracking a “potential second incident”—opening the door for more balloons to possibly be sighted in the coming days. The U.S. Department of Defense stated that similar balloon activity had been observed “over the past several years.”
“I think there’s a geopolitical risk here; they might want to consider shooting this down. What happens when the next one comes over?” Grant said.
A 2009 research paper by the U.S. Air Force suggested stratospheric airships could loiter over an area for anywhere between five days and 12 months depending on propulsion and weather patterns.
“This is a very brazen intrusion and this balloon is different in that its intent is to loiter and collect,” Grant commented. “So China should not end up thinking they got away with this balloon flight.”
Newsweek has contacted the White House and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment.
I know that this topic is off-topic, but in reality it isn’t. It’s another piece of evidence that Biden and his administration are dangerous for our country. Is this dithering, or is this cowardice? Or what? His actions in Afghanistan and Ukraine also leave a lot to be desired.
So, bat virus land sends a spy balloon over our airspace and Biden just lets it float onward, even over sensitive areas. Not shooting it down because of purported dangers to people is bullshit. It’s flying over thinly populated areas.
Just think about this for a short moment. What would a Ronald Reagan or John F. Kennedy have done? What is wrong with Biden??? He should start clearing out the cobwebs in his skull, for Christ’s sake, and insert a fucking spine. He’s got the US to run, not Haiti or Peru or whatever.
I think we do not know what others have done. I think some former U.S. presidents are might have been less hawkish than we know portray them, in particular Reagan.
Tough talk and increasing defense spending is one, but these are all low risk actions that do not prove they would have gone for a standoff against a major nuclear power.
For example: the Vietnam war and the Afghanistan war have to my view been lost because of risk aversion as supply lines of the Vietcong and the Taliban were moved to neighborhood countries that no U.S. president dared to attack out of fear of escalating the war beyond control.
Kennedy and George Bush may have the reputation of being decisive, but both were risk averse and did not have the courage to confront a major power.
On whether Reagan helped a lot to destroy the Soviet Union is little consensus: for examples the SDI could have been bluff to make the already insecure Soviet leadership even more insecure or he really believed in its capabilities, we will not know.
But what we do know is that Reagan was anti-Soviet but did prefer smaller military actions and soft power (such as the treaties with Gorbachov, increased military spending) to achieve certain goals rather than bold moves against superpowers that have uncertain outcomes.
So would he have intervened in Ukraine directly facing Russia? Or would he have chosen to shoot down the balloon instead of trying to use the incident as diplomatic leverage on China?
We don’t know and we will never.
(Although I would guess this: on Ukraine: “no” and on shooting the balloon “yes”).
No, we don’t know what the others would have done, but can take an educated guess when reviewing their policies, especially their foreign ones.
Although I also doubt that Reagan would have intervened directly – which no one on here ever claimed anyhow, including me – I, for one, am sure that Reagan would have helped Ukraine sooner and with much more than what Biden has done. And, he would’ve definitely shot down the chink balloon. Biden doesn’t even talk tough, much less act that way!
“The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave.”
Apparently, Biden already gave the order to shoot down the balloon on Wednesday, but only if there was 0 chance of casualties or damage.
This actually does surprise me, I did not expect that.
I wasn’t pointing at your claims of what Reagan might have done; my point was just that it is hard to guess what a previous POTUS from a totally different era would have done.
I think that is often based on the slippery slope argument: for example, Bush is a tough guy in my mind with a lot of military action. Imagine it is 2007. I would have expected Bush to intervene in Georgia if Russia would have invaded as he was very tough in Afghanistan and Iraq.
He only imposed some weak sanctions, as Russia made him shit his pants.
At any rate, I was using Reagan and Kennedy to illuminate other presidents with more courage and how things could be different. I know that this moot. What counts is here and now. We have to live with Biden if we want to or not.
It looks like common sense or American patriotism finally penetrated the Biden administration and reminded them that they are supposed to protect the USA and not China. They finally shot down the Chinese surveillance balloon.
Yeah, after it passed over the entire North American continent, taking thousands of pictures that were sent straight to bat virus land. Great job, Biden!
Ukraine are used to dithering from the Biden administration. Has there ever been a more reactive, instead of proactive US government?
Only Carter and Obumer’s comes to mind.
Balloon appears to be in North or South Carolina today. A second one was reported going over South America.
We should’ve shot it down when it was over Alaska or Canada. We still had plenty of time when it was over Montana and the Great Plains.
Military leaders advised against shooting down the balloon, whose belly structure was roughly the size of three buses, because of the possibility of harm to civilians and infrastructure while it was over land.
As soon as it was over water – bye, bye balloon.
Why was it so huge for? I tend to mistrust such info. Besides that, the balloon passed over very sparsely populated regions. There was never any danger of it falling on someone’s head. At least, the chances for getting hit by lightning is probably greater.