USA Hysteria As China’s Balloon Flies Over – OpEd


Another day. Another happening to hype up the US and West against China 

A China weather balloon that has blown into the US has put Western politicians and journalists’ knickers in a stitch, to put it mildly. 

Although clarified by China’s foreign ministry that the alleged spy balloon was a civilian research “airship” for gathering weather data which “deviated far from its planned course” due to strong winds and the balloon’s limited steering capabilities, the development has precipitated what American journalist Christopher Hooks has described as “one of the stupidest news cycles in living memory”. Prominent anti-war activist, Caitlin Johnstone, has weighed in to describe it as “the entire American political/media class … having an existential meltdown over what the Pentagon claims is a Chinese spy balloon.”  

China’s Foreign Ministry had clarified that “The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure”. But this seems to have only added fuel to the US fury.

American Response

Secretary of State Antony Blinken cancelled his diplomatic visit to China whilst US war hawks have hogged the mass media to beat the war drums and call for retaliation on the ‘attack’ balloon and anything from or remotely related to China. 

“A big Chinese balloon in the sky and millions of Chinese TikTok balloons on our phones,” tweeted Senator Mitt Romney. “Let’s shut them all down.”

CNN in a typical anti China commentary effort to justify American over the top response has claimed that China’s critics, though not mentioning the media organisation itself,  “see the incident as the latest example of a brazen willingness to flex its power outside its region, to trample established rules between nations and as more evidence of an aggressive attempt to expand its influence and intelligence operations around the globe”. 

A small minority of independent commentators have noted that even if the balloon had spying potential, there is no reason for Americans to lose their minds or control of their bowels.

They point out that Chinese satellites, as with US satellites, already can read the licence plates of cars in the target country. Hence there is little or no value added for the Chinese military from the balloon. 

Secondly, all major governments spy on each other with the world spying record held by the US since the end of the second world war. This is a record which is apparent from the military budget of the US estimated at US$778 billion for 2023 compared with that of China’s $252 billion, India’s $72.9 billion, Russia’s $61.7 billion and UK’s 59.2 billion. 

It has also been estimated by western sources that 123 US military satellites are circling the earth.. By comparison, Russia has 74 military satellites whilst China has 68.  

The Pentagon’s initial assessment, lost in the frenzied homeland response, is that the balloon “does not create significant value added over and above what the PRC is likely able to collect through things like satellites in Low Earth Orbit.”

China’s Possible Motives

It is entirely possible that the China balloon may be a dual purpose one which permits the collection of weather as well as information from the US air force nuclear facility in Montana. 

It is also possible that the flight path of the balloon was no accident but a response to US attempts at escalation of its anti-China policies which has included what some observers see as further military encirclement of China through the latest deal of the US with the Philippines government which allows the US four more military bases in the Philippines, in addition to the current US ones in the Philippines, Japan and South Korea.  

Other possible reasons include a deliberate and not too subtle response to the memo on war with China and shoot to kill guidance issued by a US air force general. No need to engage in hot air and rhetoric over the media and airwaves. Simply send across a balloon for the war hawks to shoot down and claim victory.  

It could also be that the China balloon is a trial balloon aimed at testing the defence capabilities of the US and a warning that China has the capability to retaliate at the US heartland should there be a US military adventure in the South China Sea or China region where most of the US military forces have been parked at to promote its hegemonic version of a rules based international order.   

What can happen next?

For now, the US military has shown to the world by finally shooting down the ‘spy’ airship after its several days cruising in US territory that it is able to defend the country against a gigantic three bus-sized though economy priced balloon from China. But it is clear that its air force and military needs a much bigger budget for the coming war to preserve American ‘freedom, way of life and sovereignty’. 

As for China, it should not be too concerned over the postponement or even cancellation of Blinken’s visit given that he is a long time confirmed war hawk. Blinken has been actively involved in American interventionist policies since the Iraq war. One of the US strongest advocates for the overthrow of Libyan president Muammar al-Gaddaf, he is a supporter of Israel and the oppression of the Palestinian people. 

Blinken’s hawkish credentials can also be deduced from his time as a lobbyist for the military-industrial complex through West-Exec Advisors, a firm he co-founded before being appointed by Biden to lead U.S. foreign policy. 

The chief concern for China now may be to avoid sending any more balloons near to the US in case this brings more nightmares to the American public and provides further justification to the hate China lobby.   

Lim Teck Ghee

Lim Teck Ghee PhD is a Malaysian economic historian, policy analyst and public intellectual whose career has straddled academia, civil society organisations and international development agencies. He has a regular column, Another Take, in The Sun, a Malaysian daily; and is author of Challenging the Status Quo in Malaysia.

3 thoughts on “USA Hysteria As China’s Balloon Flies Over – OpEd

  • February 6, 2023 at 11:05 pm

    Blinken is, what Blinken does–he blinks a lot and says the stupidest of stupidest things and his prattle is echoed and re-echoed by an unthinking, servile media especially television. Much of this is the repetitive drumbeat of anti China rhetoric–it used to be that there was a communist under every American bed which had to be checked before Americans went to sleep every night. Now the nature of the ‘red menace; has changed to a “Red” Chinese communist menace–a dragon, many dragons, on the loose. The death march of an anemic American imperialism beats on to an old drumbeat. This latest balloon Saga invites the memory of Gary Powers in America’s spy U-plane shot down by those other Reds (the then USSR) over the then Soviet Union (60s).

    • February 8, 2023 at 2:42 am

      No doubt Blinken is blinking a lot these days. A blink is a physiologically unconscious reaction to a foreign object in one’s eyes. Many in the West, as this excellent OpEd contends, are blinking to remove the irritant in their eyes, namely the ascendancy of China as a superpower as well as the decolonialising momentum in the rest of the world that is refusing to dance to the tune of their colonial masters or Western coloniality. But could Blinken actually be winking at his commanding masters of the Military Industrial Complex? As the catchphrase popularised by the 1976 film, ‘All the President’s Men’ goes, ‘follow the money’.

      Much of the irritation to the war hawks is also the fact that the Chinese ‘dragon’ rather than breathing fire is simply letting go balloons. But one could undertake a symbolic analysis of this hot air fuss about balloons. According to my symbolism dictionary, “Balloons symbolise freedom. When let go, the balloon freely soars in the air and travels to different places”. As this OpEd hints, shooting down a balloon will by no means stifle Chinese quest for freedom, or for that matter the rest of the world, from US and Western hegemony. The trigger happy hawks (or the eagle) ought to take heed of the message embedded in the popular 1983 song by the German pop singer, Nena, that there are 99 Luftballoons.

      • February 8, 2023 at 3:43 am

        kudos to you Prof 👏


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