Surveillance Balloons? What is Xi Thinking?
The military use of balloons is not a new idea. Air balloons were used in the Civil War to gather intelligence on enemy troop movements. Those balloons could also be seen by folks on the ground – but unlike today, those on the ground could not shoot them down.
Apparently, the balloon that floated across the United States was not the first Chinese lighter-than-air-craft that has been traveling over sovereign nations – just the first time we, the people, learned about them. As Xi’s balloon was touring America, there was a similar craft floating over South America.
It has been reported that this was not the first time that Chinese balloons had flown over the United States – although no one seems to know exactly when or why we never knew about them. Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he was unaware of such events during his years at the Pentagon.
The one thing that we can say for sure is that it was not a stealth operation. The Chinese craft was seen by millions of people … commercial airline pilots … and, of course, our military.
Xi said it was merely a weather balloon that had accidentally drifted over many of America’s most sensitive defense bases. Even Xi must know that his official lies have no credibility.
It comes as no surprise that China would be spying on the United States. It is something they do aggressively all the time. They spy on our military … on our infrastructure … on our defense industry … on our campuses … on Chinese foreign nationals … on (you get the idea). Of course, we spy on them, but not to the same extent.
So, why would Xi undertake such an obvious and blatant means of surveillance?
I can think of only one reason. He expected to get away with it – that the folks in Washington would not do much more than protest through diplomatic channels. Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed his meeting with Xi as an expression of our deep concern. Since the meeting was not expected to achieve much – no so-called “deliverables” — the postponement is no big deal.
Perhaps Xi wanted to see how far he could get – how much intelligence he could gather before we shot the damn thing down. Perhaps he wanted to test our air defense system against balloons.
If that was Xi’s thinking, he was right. In fact, his spy balloon went even further than he may have hoped. Whatever the goal of the mission was … what every intel information Xi hoped to obtain – it was successful. We did not shoot it down until it had completed its mission.
We did shoot it down, however. We are retrieving the bits and pieces. We will eventually find out what was aboard that balloon and what it was doing.
Of course, Xi is expressing outrage that we should shoot down the inflated piece of Chinese property. That means about as much as Blinken blinking over the scheduled meeting.
Personally, I believe we should have shot it down right after it violated American air space. I know the White House and Defense Department expressed a fear that part of the balloon might have hit people or property. Since the balloon entered The United States over Alaska, the chance of causing any serious injury or damage by shooting it down was extremely remote. (I wonder why the Canadians did not shoot it down when it entered their air space.)
I guess taking tough action is not in the DNA of President Biden. Considering the surrender in Afghanistan … the too-little-too-late approach to the war in Ukraine … the response to the crisis at the southern border … one cannot expect swift and decisive action from the folks in the White House.
Whether Xi wanted to test Biden’s backbone or wanted to surveil critical strategic locations, he got what he wanted. If you are keeping score on the balloon issue, it is Team China – 10, Team USA – 0.
So, there ‘tis