US sincerity to stabilize ties under test amid airship incident; overreaction exposes incompetence in crisis management
Published: Feb 06, 2023 10:18 PM
China US

China US

The shooting down of a civilian Chinese airship did not mark the end of the balloon episode, as US politicians continued to either advance "China threat" rhetoric or add fuel to the political struggles between the two parties in the US regardless of the impact on China-US relations, analysts said. Turning an accident caused by force majeure into a political farce highlights the US' incompetence in dealing with crises, and the US' rude handling of the balloon incident is a serious provocation that risks derailing China-US ties and it will eventually pay the price for its recklessness.  

On behalf of the Chinese government, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng was instructed to lodge stern representations on Sunday to the US Embassy in China over the US' attack on a Chinese civilian unmanned airship by force. 

Xie stressed the unintentional entry of the Chinese civilian airship into US airspace was an unexpected accident caused by force majeure, and that the ins and outs of what happened are crystal clear and clearly do not allow room for distortion or smearing. However, the US disregarded the facts, abused military force and shot down the civilian airship, which was about to exit US airspace, in what was an overreaction and a severe violation of the spirit of international law and practice.

What the US did has impacted and endangered the efforts and progress for both sides to stabilize bilateral relations since the meeting between Chinese and US leaders in Bali. China is firmly opposed to and strongly protests the US' actions, and urges the US not to make further moves that violate China's interests, or to escalate the tensions, Xie said. 

"The Chinese government is closely following the development of the situation, and will resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of the Chinese company concerned and safeguard China's interests and dignity, and reserves the right to further react in response to this matter, if necessary," Xie said.

On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning also said at the regular press conference that the unexpected case tested the US' sincerity in stabilizing and improving China-US relations and its manner of dealing with crises. 

China's latest opposition to the US' overreaction to the civilian airship came after the US military shot down the "suspected Chinese spy balloon" off the South Carolina coast on Saturday local time. However, the farce has continued in the US with GOP lawmakers calling US President Joe Biden's reaction "a failure" and asking why it did not happen sooner, while the Democrats hailed Biden's "leadership." 

Neither of the two parties seem to care about the aftermath of rudely shooting of a Chinese civilian airship, especially its impact on already strained bilateral relations, analysts said, noting that the Biden administration's failure in managing the anti-China sentiment fuelled by some hawks is erasing the room for China and the US to handle such incidents better, and may bring more turbulence to bilateral ties.  

Continuing farce 

After bringing down the Chinese civilian airship, US Navy salvage vessels began collecting debris from the balloon in about 14 meters of water off the Carolina coast. Two US defense officials said they were working with the FBI and counterintelligence authorities to recover as much debris from the balloon as possible, including whatever equipment was on board and "any material of intelligence value," US media reported.  

Republicans have criticized the Biden administration for not shooting down the balloon earlier, before it was able to traverse several states and glide over sensitive military installations. But Jim Himes, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, praised the Biden administration's handling of the aerial incident.

No matter how the Biden administration handles the issue, Democrats and Republicans will always find a way to attack each other, which is the norm in American politics, experts said, and with China as a target, the balloon incident has made inter-party fighting even fiercer. 

Lü Xiang, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that it is extremely rude and unreasonable for the US to handle the matter in such a way, especially when it's clear that the balloon was only a harmless civilian airship and that the Chinese side has expressed plenty of goodwill and intention to communicate on the matter.

The Biden administration cannot make a correct decision and properly handle the matter due to fear of being criticized by Republicans for acting "weak," Lü told the Global Times. 

The US has failed in its "emotion management," turning an accident into an incident, and with the shooting down of the airship, into a major incident in bilateral ties, the expert said. 

The US Senate is expected to receive a full briefing on the balloon on February 15, but the White House is pushing back and defending its actions.

Both the Republicans and Democrats are hyping the balloon incident for their own political ends without considering the importance of stabilizing bilateral relations with China, especially in such crucial circumstances, Sun Chenghao, a research fellow from the Center for International Security and Strategy at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times on Monday. 

Citing the incident, the US announced it was postponing Secretary of State Antony Blinken's reportedly planned visit to China, which had not been confirmed by China. 

Analysts said that while politicians in Washington have been talking big about putting up "guardrails" for China-US relations, they are actually doing the opposite, as some of them are becoming increasingly unscrupulous in challenging China's bottom line and making waves across the Taiwan Straits. The way the US dealt with the balloon incident also added more uncertainties to the already turbulent China-US relationship amid narrowing channels of communication.

It is rare to see that in the first two years of a US president's term, there have been no visits between the heads of state of the two largest economies in the world, and ministerial-level visits have also been few, Lü noted. 

Sun said the Biden administration's incompetence in withstanding the pressure from anti-China hawks will encourage them to make more reckless provocations against China and push irrational anti-China sentiments, set up more hurdles for exchanges between the two countries and eventually destroy bilateral relations. 

The balloon incident happened just as the 2024 election campaign cycle is about to begin and may shed light on how US domestic political struggles will bind themselves to China-related topics, analysts said. 

More issues related to China, from trade and economy to high-technology and the Taiwan question, will be brought to the stage of US domestic politics, said Sun.

As the world faces a challenge to bring about common economic recovery in the post-pandemic era, China and the US could have taken the chance to sit down and talk about pragmatic cooperation in many fields and inject positive momentum into their own countries' and the world's development, said Lü. 

However, the US seems unwilling to take such a chance to fix ties and ease tensions, and bilateral ties and the world are likely to see more uncertainties in the future, the expert said.