US hypes spy balloon, brings ‘China threat’ to new level
Published: Feb 03, 2023 11:17 PM
China US

China US

Recent signals sent from the US on China have been utterly chaotic, which may bring more uncertainty to already strained bilateral relations, Chinese analysts said on Friday. They urged the US to be more sincere in fixing relations with China instead of making provocative actions against it, especially after the picture of a white balloon made headlines in the US and some Western countries on Friday, as Pentagon officials claimed that a Chinese spy balloon hovering over Montana this week had a flight path that took it over "sensitive sites" in the US. 

A spokesperson from the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Friday that the balloon was an airship from China but rejected the spy claim, saying that the civilian airship, used mainly for meteorological research purposes, deviated from its planned course after being affected by westerlies and due to its limited self-steering capability.

The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure, and will continue communicating with the US side and properly handle this unexpected situation caused by force majeure, said the spokesperson. 

The balloon - about the size of three buses, is traveling at an altitude "well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground," Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters in a hastily arranged news conference where he addressed the ongoing situation, the Washington Post reported. 

Before being clear of the facts, the US military and media accused China of spying, and this incident has brought the US' recent hyping of the "China threat" to a new level, with some Chinese analysts saying the stunt, which was not backed by concrete proof, may bring new tensions to China-US relations, as it is a follow-up to more intensive US moves to contain China in the fields of military, technology, and diplomacy and also on issues of China's core concerns, including on the island of Taiwan. 

The string of US' actions against China also came with the news from the US that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit China on February 5 and 6. China has not yet confirmed Blinken's visit, despite the spokesperson of China's Foreign Affairs Ministry previously welcoming it.  

Following the balloon hype, US media reported Friday that the Biden administration has decided to postpone Blinken's upcoming trip to Beijing. 

While the international community expects to see the world's top two economies ease tensions via high-level interactions to boost global development in the post-pandemic era, the US is being urged to be more sincere in making concrete moves to solve problems with China, instead of making more provocations, analysts said. 

Maintaining high-level communication is conductive to improving bilateral relations, However, deeply affected by its domestic politics, Washington has sent utterly chaotic signals, with positive commitments made by the top leader as well as continuous actions that further endanger relations, bringing more uncertainties to China-US ties, Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations at the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times.

This week, while drumming up the threat from China, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had been engaged into a whirlwind of activities in South Korea and the Philippines, two of China's neighboring countries, to step up military drills and push for wider access of US troops to bases in Southeast Asia.

Aside from adding to its military presence around China, the US also ramped up efforts to strangle China on high-technologies, including a decision to cease approval licenses for American firms to export most items to Chinese technology giant Huawei and coercing the Netherlands and Japan to agree to join the US in limiting exports of advanced chipmaking equipment to China. It has also been unceasingly hyping issues on the island of Taiwan ahead of the one-year anniversary of the Russia-Ukraine military conflict.

To set real guardrails 

Analysts said it is neither strange nor rare to see the US playing this old trick of exerting extreme pressure on China before significant and high-level potential interactions in an attempt to gain more bargaining chips. However, China will make no compromise on its core concerns and will take countermeasures against provocations while welcoming any exchanges made in good intention.

On Friday, China released a report that examines the US' willful practice of long-arm jurisdiction in recent years, and the perils it has brought to the international political and economic order and the international rule of law. Some analysts interpreted the report as a response to Washington's suppression of China. 

The US is facing a problem on how to balance its strategic goals with domestic practical needs, as its containment of China is more a negative-sum game than a zero-sum one. As it attempts to cripple China, it is shooting its own feet. For example, the semiconductor industry in the US is facing its toughest challenges since the 90s and its internet industry has suffered the coldest winter, Lü Xiang, an expert on US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times, on Friday. 

Economic recovery is not the only field in which the US needs China. Analysts noted that the Biden administration is seeking to hold talks with China on a slew of issues, including the Russia-Ukraine conflict, exchanges between the two militaries, and climate. Communication channels on the latter two fields had been temporarily suspended after the US former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's highly provocative visit to the island of Taiwan. 

Some US lawmakers, especially hawkish anti-China ones, have provocatively put out a longer list of issues that should be discussed between China and the US. US media reported that US Senator Bob Menendez wrote to Blinken on Wednesday to urge him to talk about human rights issues and the Taiwan question. 

Li said that China also has its own list of issues it needs to talk about with the US, especially on the island of Taiwan. With the harm done by Pelosi's visit to the island still lingering over China-US relations, the Biden administration should credibly honor its commitment and make sure the new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy does not provoke China with a visit to the island, which is a real move that would set a guardrail on bilateral relations.

The US has continued playing the Taiwan card, with the latest stunt pulled by US Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns, who said on Thursday that China's "ambitions" on the island should not be underestimated. 

In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at the press conference on Friday that the island is an inalienable part of China and the Taiwan question is China's domestic affair, which is different from the Ukraine issue in nature. She urged some people in the US to stop creating new factors that will bring tension to the cross-Straits situation. 

China has made the red line crystal clear to the US, and it is time for the US to show sincerity in fixing ties, said analysts. 

Lü said that the US and China should grasp the current window of opportunity to improve relations, as the US will fall into more chaos after it enters its election cycle. More stable China-US relations benefit not only the US and China, but also meet the expectations of the international community.