Balloon-Gate is a complex issue between the US and China

2023-02-20 15:29 BY APD NEWS

Author: Prof. Engr. Zamir Ahmed Awan, Founding Chair GSRRA, Sinologist (ex-Diplomat), Editor, Analyst, and Non-Resident Fellow of CCG (Center for China and Globalization). (E-mail:      

Despite clarification by China’s Foreign Ministry in a statement that westerly wind had caused the airship to stray into U.S. territory, describing the incident as a result of “force majeure” — or greater force — for which it was not responsible, and it was purely a civilian purpose intended for scientific research only. The US seems not satisfied and perusing it as a sensitive concern in nature and considers it as aggression. “China regrets that the airship strayed into the United States due to force majeure. China will continue to maintain communication with the US to properly handle the unexpected situation,” it added. The statement comes hours after Beijing urged Washington to remain “cool-headed” amid its investigation into reports that the balloon had been hovering over sensitive airspace in the northern U.S.

The US rejects the clarification, overreacted to this incident, and created hype in geopolitics. The U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a scheduled trip to Beijing and increased the tension which was prevailing sing long.

Earlier, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a press briefing earlier that authorities were still learning about the matter, adding that politicians and the public should withhold judgment “before we have a clear understanding of the facts.” We hope relevant parties would handle the matter in a cool-headed way, Mao Ning said.

“China is a responsible country, and we act in accordance with international law. We have no intention to violate other countries’ sovereignty and airspace,” Mao said.

After the sighting, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin convened a meeting of senior military and defense leaders and other combatant commanders to review the threat profile of the stratospheric balloon and brief President Joe Biden on possible responses.

The US authorities confirmed that the balloon does not pose a threat to civil aviation because of its altitude, the official added and found nothing of any significance. 

Originally planned, Blinken was due to meet China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Qin Gang, and possibly Chinese President Xi Jinping, during a two-day visit to China — the first such visit by a U.S. secretary of State in nearly six years and the first by a Biden administration Cabinet secretary. There were high expectations and positive outcomes from his visit and international experts and analysts were hoping it a big step and mega achievement. But, unfortunately, everything turned the opposite and the scheduled meeting was postponed. The meeting was set by Biden and Xi at the G-20 in Bali, Indonesia, in November, in a bid to improve ties that have grown increasingly fraught amid disputes over Russia’s war in Ukraine, trade, Taiwan, human rights, and China’s claims in the South China Sea. It is a major setback to regional peace and stability.

The US is so sensitive that the U.S. Air Force shot down an object in Canadian airspace using a US$400,000 advanced missile last weekend, and it turns out that object might have been a US$12 balloon released by a balloon hobby group.

The Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade told Aviation Week that one of its pico balloons — balloons that measure things like temperature, pressure, and humidity — has gone missing. They said there’s strong circumstantial evidence that it might be the object shot down by NORAD. The Bottlecap Balloon Brigade (named as an homage to the Disney movie Up!) reported Pico Balloon K9YO “missing in action” on Feb. 15, but its last position was recorded on Feb. 10 off the coast of Alaska at an altitude close to 40,000 feet. A popular forecasting tool projected that the silver balloon would have been in the same approximate area and altitude as the unidentified object shot down over Yukon by a Lockheed Martin F-22 on Feb. 11.

And while the U.S. claims that the first discovered balloon was being used for espionage, President Joe Biden said there’s no evidence that the other objects shot down had been deployed for nefarious purposes. “The intelligence community’s current assessment is that these three objects were most likely balloons tied to private companies, recreation, or research institutions,” Biden said Thursday.

Meanwhile, RCMP continues their search for the remnants of the object shot down in Canadian airspace after the Pentagon said it was “absolutely important” to recover what remains; the search efforts are being hampered by harsh weather and the Yukon’s rough mountain terrain.

It seems that the US is deliberately complicating the issue and unnecessarily prolonging it to gain political mileage. While China is cooperating fully, there is no need to make issues out of non-issues. It should have been settled amicably through mutual investigations. Save global peace, stability, and prosperity.

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