After initial hysterical reaction, US' balloon saga comes to a sudden burst
Published: Feb 15, 2023 09:38 PM
F-22, aka the balloon killer, is the only fighter in the world to have defeated a weather balloon. Cartoon: Vitaly Podvitski

F-22, aka the "balloon killer", is the only fighter in the world to have defeated a weather balloon. Cartoon: Vitaly Podvitski

After American top-level fighter jets shot down four flying objects in eight days, US' hype about the balloon saga got a sudden burst. 

The White House acknowledged Tuesday that the latest three downed mysterious unidentified objects were tied to a commercial or otherwise benign purpose, and so far there is no evidence to show they are linked to China or any other foreign spy program. On the same day, The Washington Post quoted "US officials," speaking on the condition of anonymity, as conceding the first Chinese balloon, previously alleged by US media as "spy balloon," was "pushed" by "strong winds" into US airspace, which "didn't intend to penetrate the American heartland."

Here is the rub: If the latest three objects were not linked to China, who do they belong to? 

On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported that "American military and civilian agencies have flown balloons over the US for a growing range of national-security applications, scientific research, intelligence collection and commercial uses, according to industry experts, former officials and government documents." In other words, "the US may have taken down three of its own balloons," Shen Yi, a professor at Fudan University, told Global Times. Those F-22s, F-16, and costly missiles fired in the missions, may have all shelled random pieces of American own assets. 

Now, it would be hilarious to re-read the news stories in US media over the past days, which vividly portrayed pictures of American politicians and pundits running around with their hair on fire, vehemently calling for more military budget and Cold War escalations, all for a small harmless balloon. 

After the latest update, there is basically no mention over US side's previous shrill screams about China's "intrusion into American airspace." Take China Select Committee Chairman Mike Gallagher, who articulated that the balloon was "a threat to American sovereignty." Do they feel ashamed now? 

The wind is changing in US' narrative over the balloon farce. A major reason is that the US has woken up to bitter fruit of escalating tension with China too hard through fake accusations. 

The US flies more balloons than any other country. It could easily trigger a domino effect by shooting down balloons at its whim - American own balloons and airship may be hijacked by other countries in the future. And at that time, the US will lose more than it gains, Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times. 

The more important question confronting the US is - does it want China-US ties at all? In the short term, Washington faces more crucial puzzles relating to its national interests, including national debt, macroeconomic policies, and trade with China. To some extent, the US needs China more than China needs the US. Against this backdrop, it would be equivalent to setting traps for itself, if the US keeps squeezing its wiggle room in ties with China, Shen said. 

Propaganda based on choreographed fake stories is unsustainable. The development of China-US ties will eventually come back to and rests on facts. If US politicians keeps manipulating their diplomacy for the sake of winning domestic politics, it will only shake strategic stability among major powers, experts noted. 

Given that the facts are surfacing, do US authorities have the nerve to admit it with follow-up moves, such as withdrawing sanctions against six Chinese companies which have connections with the innocent balloon? Against the backdrop, US officials, ranging from President Joe Biden to Pentagon Chief Lloyd Austin, can only save their image by clarifying the truth in a formal manner. 

In the balloon saga, the US has shown its allies and the world how incapable it was to identify small flying objects, whether they are for military use or not, and whether they are harmful to US national interests. It is an unscrupulous alpha who gives erratic warnings at will. It is the man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail for him. Worse, it is a man who has completely run out of tools, except for his hammer, Shen said.