Video footage caught a high-altitude Chinese balloon flying in sensitive airspace over Billings, Montana. The Pentagon asserts it is a surveillance balloon. "The United States government has detected and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon that is flying over the continental United States right now. NORAD [North American Aerospace Defense Command] continues to track and monitor it closely." China claims it is a civilian weather balloon for scientific research blown off course by a Western wind.
The Pentagon stated that the balloon was not an isolated incident . Several similar balloons have been in U.S. airspace over the last few years. A defense official said, “Instances of this activity have been observed [sic] over the past several years, including prior to [sic] this administration," the official said, noting that "it's happened a handful of other times over the past few years ... It is appearing to hang out for a longer period of time [sic] this time around." The official also said that it was a military balloon flying along areas where there are intercontinental ballistic missile silos and bases.
Senior defense officials do not assess the aircraft as a significant intelligence-gathering threat. Former Obama advisor now in the private sector, Dewardric McNeal, stated the balloon is provocative and bizarre. "Nations do reconnaissance, for sure. It isn't going to gain much more intelligence than their low-orbit satellites. This is a bit provocative and bizarre [sic]. It's provocative, and frankly, it just happened at the wrong time. [sic]".
The incident happened at a hectic time for U.S./China relations. Earlier this week, a 4-Star Air Force General's memo appeared on social media. It stated that the U.S. should prepare for a war with China within two years. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was scheduled to arrive in China on Sunday. Secretary Blinken has postponed his trip until answers are available concerning the balloon. Additionally, the balloon emerged one day after the U.S. announced expanded bases in the Philippines to ward off China.
The Pentagon accused China of violating U.S. airspace and breaking international law. There is significant anger in Congress. The New York Times reported, “In a joint statement, Representatives Mike Gallagher, Republican of Wisconsin, and Raja Krishnamoorthi, Democrat of Illinois, said, “The Chinese Communist Party should not have on-demand access to American airspace.”
The two added that the incident showed that the China threat “is not confined to distant shores — it is here at home, and we must act to counter this threat.” Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy Tweeted “China’s brazen disregard for U.S. sovereignty is a destabilizing action that must be addressed[sic], and President Biden cannot be silent. I am requesting a Gang of Eight briefing.” A Gang of Eight briefings is a high-level national security briefing to eight members of Congress, four from the House and four from the Senate. The members are the majority and minority leaders and ranking members of the intelligence committees in each House. A Gang of Eight briefing enables both Houses and political parties representation. Calling for a Gang of Eight is an alarming development. The stakes are high. China has called for all parties to remain “cool-headed.”
What does it mean?
The world woke up this morning to the possibility of military activity between the U.S. and China. Whether or not it was China’s intention, it does appear that China tried to provoke or insult the U.S. The U.S. needs to respond appropriately, but people disagree on what "appropriately" is. President Biden will be the decider of what is the appropriate response. Hopefully, cooler heads prevail, and officials will handle the situation with diplomacy instead of nuclear weapons. However, the Chinese balloon is a reminder of how much uncertainty and fragility exist.
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