On Feb. 3, a suspected Chinese spy balloon was shot down after it was spotted drifting across U.S. territory. American officials said it had been carrying a large payload that appeared to be surveillance equipment, and ultimately, the call to shoot it down was made once it reached the coast.
The incident caused a great deal of confusion on both sides. In what was supposed to be a year of easing diplomatic tensions, the two nations are now headed in the opposite direction, engaged in back-and-forth communication over who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong.
China claims that the apparatus was not a spy balloon but a weather balloon that, for reasons unknown, went “far from its planned course.” It refutes the notion that the apparatus was sent intentionally to infiltrate US airspace since such a decision would jeopardize the peacemaking efforts the country has worked so hard to put forward.
“By all accounts, the Chinese leadership was looking forward to having direct talks with Blinken,” explained political science professor Chong Ja Ian from the National University of Singapore to CNN. “It would be very plausible that (Chinese leader Xi Jinping) would want to make sure everything was smooth in the lead-up to the visit.”
Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, was supposed to meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang in Beijing on Feb. 5 to work on improving China-US relations, but the visit has since been postponed. Steve Tsang, the director of the SOAS China Institute at the University of London, says such a meeting is not one that the Chinese ever intended to put at risk.
“[Xi Jinping, Chinese president] wanted Blinken to visit and discuss issues of mutual interest. Xi is trying to patch up the economy after the disaster of the zero-Covid policy and US restrictions on semiconductors. So, he could not have wanted an incident over the balloon that would derail such a meeting,” he said.
Meanwhile, the US continues to stand by its decision to shoot the balloon down, claiming that the now-deflated apparatus was part of a wide-scale Chinese surveillance operation and that several other spy balloons have been spotted around the world in recent years.
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