Chinese balloon in the American sky triggered a diplomatic skirmish

The detection of a Chinese balloon in the sky over Montana sparked a major diplomatic crisis as the US accused Beijing of spying on it.

Chinese balloon in the American sky triggered a diplomatic skirmish

Representational image

On Saturday, February 4th, a US Air Force F-22 fighter jet shot down a Chinese balloon over the Atlantic Ocean, a day after it became sensational international news, sparking what critics called an immense Sinophobic hysteria in the US and the West.

The US accused the Chinese balloon—first spotted on January 28th when it entered the US airspace near the Aleutian Islands, traversed Alaska, Canada, and then re-entered the US airspace over Idaho— is a “spy” balloon used for surveillance by China.

Beijing has refuted the US allegations and claimed that the balloon was not a surveillance instrument deployed by it but a civilian airship designed for meteorological research purposes, which made the unintended entry into the US airspace due to “force majeure”, ie, factors outside the control of the operators.

The US and the Western mainstream media called the Chinese balloon a surveillance vessel and accused Beijing of violating its sovereignty. The US government whipped massive hysteria in Montana, where the Chinese balloon was spotted on Friday, but it refrained from shooting it down as it feared the debris might cause harm to civilians.

It shot down the Chinese balloon using one of its F-22 jets when it hovered over the Atlantic Ocean. The US defence secretary, Lloyd J Austin III, informed about the shooting down of the Chinese balloon with a written statement.

“The balloon, which was being used by the PRC [People’s Republic of China] in an attempt to surveil strategic sites in the continental United States, was brought down above US territorial waters”, Austin said.

Countering the criticism against US President Joe Biden for not taking immediate action against the Chinese balloon, Austin said, “Today’s deliberate and lawful action demonstrates that President Biden and his national security team will always put the safety and security of the American people first while responding effectively to the PRC’s unacceptable violation of our sovereignty”.

The Chinese government has strongly objected to hysteria and the US shooting down the Chinese balloon, which it called a civilian airship. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng lodged a strong protest at the US embassy in Beijing.

Xie claimed that the Chinese balloon entered the US airspace due to force majeure. This entry was unexpected and accidental, and the entire episode was clear, leaving no room for “distortion or smearing”.

Xie said, “What the United States has done severely impacted and undermined the efforts and progress made by the two sides to stabilise China-US relations since the two countries’ leaders met in Bali, Indonesia”.

“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 (sic)”, Xie said.

While the US and the Western media have claimed that US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has cancelled his trip to China protesting the Chinese balloon incident, Beijing has denied that any official tour was scheduled. Blinken had planned to travel to Beijing following a meeting between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in November at Bali in Indonesia.

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