AA Edit | US downing of Chinese spy balloon justifiable

The Asian Age.

Opinion, Edit

Fear of advanced aerial technology of cutting edge kind to spy on a country’s nuclear missile silos is perceived to be threat to sovereignty

In this photo provided by Chad Fish, the remnants of a large balloon drift above the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of South Carolina, with a fighter jet and its contrail seen below it, Feb. 4, 2023. The downing of the suspected Chinese spy balloon by a missile from an F-22 fighter jet created a spectacle over one of the state's tourism hubs and drew crowds reacting with a mixture of bewildered gazing, distress and cheering. (Photo: AP)

A war is going on in Ukraine thanks to a Russian invasion and the Chinese have been indulging in brinkmanship over Taiwan. At such a fraught time when an increasingly bipolar world is suffused with tensions in a Cold War redux, it was intemperate of China to be flying spy balloons straight out of the 1950s, though these are extremely sophisticated spying weapons.

Regardless of all that will be said and done in the aftermath of the US downing the surveillance balloon over its territorial waters after days of indirect messaging across continents, the US action should be justified as unimpeachable. Any sovereign nation would have done that when it came to such a visible threat.

The protestations of innocence from China sound so unconvincing when the world knows that in this era of super spy satellites and extensive espionage when a refrigerator as well as a humble light bulb are thought capable of gathering information and relaying data, there is little to gain in flying spy balloons while pretending they are innocent aids of students of meteorology.

Fear of advanced aerial technology of the cutting edge kind to spy on a country’s nuclear missile silos is real, and perceived, logically enough, to be a threat to sovereignty. Incredulity is stretched when it is averred by those indulging in “Balloonacy” that a couple of these “civilian aircraft” with a payload running to three school bus lengths floating above North and South America got there because of the craft’s “limited steering capability.”

Notwithstanding some experts propounding theories about how difficult it is to shoot down these balloons flying at 60,000+ feet, all it took was one Sidewinder missile fired from a supersonic jet to bring it down. If the US civilian and military command wished to wait for the balloon to go past land and fly over water to bring it down, it was again strategically logical.

It is almost absurd to think, given the technological options available to superpowers today, that balloons could bring about a nuclear conflict between the United States and China. It is clear that besides all instant communications among nuclear-armed superpowers, a mechanism is also needed to keep all informed if so much as a weather balloon has to go up in the air lest it lose its way among the atmospheric wind currents.

Bullying and brinkmanship go hand in hand. But it is time the bluff was called. If China is playing spy games of an ancient kind at this time, it can only be seen as a country willing to join others in not respecting the territorial integrity of sovereign nations. Its threats of reprisals can only seen as acts of a bully even in such a non-life threatening crisis as Chinese officials did not even call to work out a way to deal with its truant balloons.

The result is further deterioration in the quality of relations between superpowers with the US cancelling the visit of Anthony J. Blinken, the first high level US official who was to go to China in the last few years. It would be optimistic to believe China would change tack after its sophisticated balloon was shot down and open up channels of communication with the US and its allies, particularly India with whom it shares a long land border too. China will not change, but other nations facing it would have to perk up their counterintelligence systems to cope with insidious threats.