MS Risk Blog

The shooting down of Chinese spy balloons in U.S. airspace

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The recent shooting down of Chinese spy balloons that were discovered over North American airspace have led to the U.S. and Canada increasing their national security measures against China. China have responded to these shootings by challenging U.S. global influence, leading them to feel threatened. It is highly likely the Biden administration’s policy in 2022 the catalyst that has called for the shooting down of these balloons. Because of this, NORAD have recalibrated their radar scans to pick up smaller, slower moving objects, which led to the detection of these balloons. The U.S. and Canada have threatened to implement bans on the social media app TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, on government phones as a measure to increase their national security.  Since the incident China has challenged the U.S. global influence through the recent agreement between Saudi-Arabia and Iran. The U.S. has shown reluctant support for China’s diplomatic achievements, but it is highly likely that they believe their global influence is at risk. China’s upcoming talks with Russia suggest that they are going to continue to further seek to expand their global influence over the next year.

The threat of spy balloons over foreign airspace is not a new phenomenon. The chair and founder of Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance said that these kinds of objects have always been in U.S. airspace, but they chose to tolerate them. The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) claims that because of the objects smaller and slower moving nature they were harder to spot. Previously they searched for faster, larger object such as drones and planes. It is likely due to an increase in global tension from the Ukraine war that NORAD was tasked with recalibrating their sensors to pick up these smaller, slower objects. It is also somewhat likely that NORAD had received some intelligence reporting of the balloons’ existence, however at this time we are unable to confirm this.

It is highly likely that the sudden increase for the shooting down of these U.F.Os stems from the Biden Administrations 2022 policy towards China. This policy seeks to increase U.S. competition with China economically to maintain transatlantic unity. However, this has led to increased animosity from China. The President’s tough stance on China has likely only been exacerbated with the current Republican dominated House of Representatives. It is likely that the pressures from the House of Representatives combined with the already tough stance on China increased the measures in which to counter possible threats from China in the U.S. airspace. An example of this is the threats from the Biden administration, beginning in early March until present, to ban the Chinese made social media app ‘TikTok’ on government phones if China’s stake in the company who created the app, ByteDance, is not sold. This has not only been occurring in the U.S. but other governing bodies such as the EU Commission and most recently the United Kingdom on Thursday 16 March announced plans to ban the app on government devices. The measure has been introduced due to fear of the Chinese government lifting data off cellular devices through the app, which is a concern that has been raised by American officials for years. We can expect to see further European nations follow suit due to a similar fear of security breaches from China over the course of the year.

On 5 February, the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s response to the shootings of the air balloons were that it was “a violation of international practice,” expressing full dissatisfaction and protest towards the incident. China have not made any hostile moves towards the U.S. following the incident. However, since the shootings China have recently held talks with Saudi Arabia and Iran during the week of 6-10 March. The outcome of these talks brokered a deal between long-time rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran which has led to the two nations restoring diplomatic relations. The importance of this for China is that it has established themselves as having global influence that can rival the U.S. There have been no explicit statements that this move was made as a direct challenge to the U.S. resulting from the shooting down of the air balloons, however, the timing of the deal coming shortly after these incidents strongly suggest that China is pushing to challenge the U.S. as the most influential country in the world. The U.S. have shown reluctant support for China’s diplomatic achievement on March 10 in a brief public statement from U.S. officials, however this is likely to avoid an increase in tension following the shooting of the spy balloons. Their reluctance in expressing their support strongly suggest that the U.S. feels that their position is being threatened by China.

The shooting of the Chinese spy balloons, which was likely spurred on by Biden’s tough stance on China, has had a significant impact on both North America and China. We can see that the U.S. and Canada have put an increased focus on National Security, recalibrating NORAD radar scanners to detect new threats and the threats to ban TikTok on government devices, on which the European governing bodies have followed suit. In contrast China has responded by challenging the U.S. position as the leading influential power in the world, especially in the Middle East with their success in beginning the restoration of the relationship between Saudi-Arabia and Iran.