China Sends us Balloons: Kind Gesture, or Sinister Tactic?


Associated Press

US Navy recovering a high-altitude surveillance balloon off the South Carolina Coast

Shooting balloons used to be a kids’ game at carnivals. Now, nations have made it a sport to send balloons to each other for target practice.

According to CNN, four balloons believed by U.S. intelligence officials to be used by the Chinese for espionage in the past two weeks were shot down by U.S. fighter pilots in U.S. and Canadian airspace despite China’s claims that the balloons are, in fact, weather balloons that drifted off course. According to NBC News, the first balloon, manufactured by a company with proven ties to the Chinese military, measured 200 feet in height and had an intelligence payload weighing thousands of pounds that included large solar panels and multiple antennas capable of geolocating and accessing communications. According to USA Today, the balloon was spotted in late January as it approached Alaska. After it came down through northwestern Canada and passed over sensitive military sites in Montana, Missouri, South Carolina and North Carolina, the Pentagon and White House finally decided to bring it down off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday, Feb. 4. 

White House and Pentagon officials explained they chose to wait and not to shoot the balloon down over land because of the risk to civilians that the couple thousand pounds of payload or any hazardous components posed. Additionally, according to USA Today, Air Force General Glen VanHerck, commander of U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, told reporters, “I could not take immediate action because it was not demonstrating hostile act or hostile intent.” According to Gen. Vanherck, the U.S. military is not allowed to touch unidentified flying objects such as UFOs– even if they conspicuously traveled to the U.S. internationally from an identifiably hostile country– so long as they have no harmful intent. Additionally, some might ask in response to the civilian safety concern: does Montana or Canada not have vast tracks of land uninhabited by people? Yes, definitively. Still, according to ABC, Chuck Schumer insists, “We got enormous intelligence information from surveilling the balloon as it went over the United States.” ABC news anchor George Stephanopoulos responded, “but didn’t the Chinese get enormous intelligence as well?” Schumer responded, “Well, they could have been getting it [the intelligence] anyway. But we have to know what they’re doing, okay?” This aspect of the controversy is the topic of debate and concern for many, particularly on the Republican side, who believe the balloon should have been shot down as soon as it was spotted. According to Fox News, Texas Republican Congressman Pete Sessions exclaimed that it is “[horrific] that we have a president who would allow Chinese spyware to be on top of our country for days at a time and seemingly … do nothing.” It would also appear as though this network of spy balloons has been operational for a while now without our knowledge. According to USA Today, Pentagon officials have reported three sightings of probable Chinese spy balloons in Trump’s administration and one previous sighting in Biden’s administration. Senator Schumer agreed that we should look into why it took our intelligence sources and army so long to identify the operation.

According to CNN, the U.S. believes the balloons originate from a military base on China’s Hainan island where, coincidentally, a U.S. spy plane made an emergency landing back in 2001. In response to this incident, China investigated the plane for three months before it was returned to the U.S. in pieces. Mao Ning, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, condemned the U.S. for mistreating their weather balloons: “The US insists on using force to attack Chinese unmanned civilian airships, which seriously violates international practice and sets a horrible precedent.” Evidently, all the balloons and balloon dishonesty have strained the U.S.-China relationship to a new low.

Experts believe there is a severe problem with the rising quantity of unidentified flying objects flying in U.S. airspace. According to CNN, between March 2021 and Aug. 2022, 247 UFO sightings were reported, primarily by military personnel; this is almost double the 144 UFO sightings reported between 2004 and 2021. In July, the Pentagon established an “All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office” to investigate credible UFO sightings. Within this category were the previously suspected Chinese spy/weather balloons, but how can we possibly expect to identify the purpose of some flying objects if the U.S. military cannot inspect them even though, according to the Pentagon, we are suspicious and concerned about them? According to Gen. Vanherck, nations from all over the place can send us balloons, but in most cases, we cannot do anything about them. Perhaps these balloons are more than a kind gesture, and kids would be more effective at running our nation.