Time to turn the 'balloon incident' page and bring China-US relations back on track
Published: Apr 24, 2023 12:20 PM
Bloated hype beyond all reason. Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Bloated hype beyond all reason. Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

It's been two months since a Chinese weather balloon was shot down by a US F-22 fighter jet. As time goes by, more and more people have come around to the fact that the balloon incident was indeed an accident, an unexpected episode in the history of China-US relations. 

Just when it seems there will be no sequel to the so-called spy balloon drama, an NBC report on April 3 suggests there could be more. The report quoted three US officials who claimed that the Chinese balloon was "able to gather intelligence from several sensitive American military sites" and "transmit the information back to Beijing." 

This kind of narrative is nothing new. Similar questions were already raised in early February about the possibility of China using a balloon to spy on the US. China was quick to set the record straight. It emphasized the civilian nature of the balloon and made related details available to the US side in the shortest time possible. 

However, this latest development indicates that some in the US are still trying to salvage whatever is left of the balloon story. For the China hawks, the incident offers a perfect chance to paint China as a rival rampaging through America's sphere of influence, so they must keep the balloon saga alive in support of their narrative about an "inevitable war" between the US and China. The purpose of doing this? To whip up anger and panic among the Sinophobes so they can grab more votes, to invent reasons for military preparedness so they can profit from MIC (Military & Industrial Complex) contracts, and to create a pseudo-logic that helps sustain their campaign for confrontation and conflict.  

The balloon drama is just one screw in their anti-China toolbox. Also in the box is the "Taiwan card" which is even more dangerous and harmful in so many ways. When US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy had a high-profile meeting on US soil with Taiwan regional leader Tsai Ing-wen, it seems that once again the China hawks tiptoed across the reddest of red lines drawn by China. Apart from touting his support for Taiwan island, McCarthy clamored for continued arms sales to the island, which will only escalate tensions across the Taiwan Straits. 

The US has created too many uncertainties in the Straits, but one certainty is that if Washington's China policy remains in the hands of China hawks, China-US relations will be thrown off course. That kind of scenario benefits no one, not the Chinese, not the Americans and not people anywhere in the world.    

If the US is serious about rebuilding trust instead of seeking conflict with China, it should demonstrate rationality and sincerity. It is time to stop listening to the China hawks and get the relations back on track. Otherwise, no amount of guardrails can prevent the relations from derailing, and crises would become the order of the day.

The author is a commentator on international affairs, writing regularly for Xinhua News Agency, Global Times, CGTN and China Daily. He can be reached at xinping604@gmail.com.