Spy Balloon(s): Chinese Experts React
Zheng Yongnian, Zhu Feng, Wang Haili, Shen Yi and Sun Bingyan
The recent incursion of at least one suspected Chinese spy balloon into US airspace has led to renewed tensions between Washington and Beijing. Below is a selection of reactions by Chinese think-tank analysts and scholars to this incident. The pieces were published last week following the shooting down of the balloon and are listed from newest to oldest. They include Shen Yi’s commentary which I already shared with you last Tuesday. For this edition I am providing short summaries for each article rather than translations which take longer to put together. If you find this type of format helpful for covering such events, please let me know by liking this post, leaving a comment or by just sending me a message.
Author: Zheng Yongnian (郑永年) – Director of the Institute for International Affairs, Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Published: Friday 10 February 2023
Source: GBA Review
· Domestic issues in the US and the polarisation of American politics in recent years are the main drivers behind the recent spiralling of tensions over this balloon.
· With both the Republicans and Democrats competing to see who can be tougher on China, improving US-China relations will be difficult.
· The future of US-China relations now depends primarily on China. Beijing should:
Not act impulsively in the face of provocations by US China hawks.
Focus on the overall picture of US-China relations and on fostering cooperation with Washington.
Aim for “healthy” economic and technological competition with Washington, not military competition.
Adopt a “I will wrestle with you, but our relationship will not break” type of approach.
Focus on China’s economic development and the opening up of China’s economy, regardless of what others decide to do. Only by doing so will Beijing be able to avert unrest at home, slow down the US’s push to decouple from the PRC and, in so doing, have a chance of stabilising its relations with Washington.
Author: Zhu Feng (朱锋) – Director of the School of International Studies, Nanjing University.
Published: Tuesday 7 February 2023
· The balloon incident has been blown out of proportion for three reasons: 1. It was exposed by the US media; 2. It is being manipulated by China hawks; 3. It is being amplified by the “China threat” paranoia of the American population as a whole.
· Similar airborne devices have previously entered both US and Chinese airspaces without their causing such a stir. The US has overreacted despite public and private attempts by Beijing to resolve this issue.
· The greater the polarisation of US politics and US society as a whole, the more politicians will attempt to use the “China threat” theory as a rallying point. This trend has been the main driver behind the growing tensions between Beijing and Washington and will continue to pose the greatest threat to US-China relations in coming years.
· If anti-China sentiment is left unchecked in America, US-China relations risk becoming confrontational.
· The risk of US-China confrontation will be exacerbated if the analysis of the balloon were to confirm its intent to spy on America. If such conclusions were to be made, US pressure on China would undoubtedly increase, which would probably have a spill-over effect on Beijing’s biggest potential flashpoint with Washington – Taiwan.
· General Mike Minihan’s recent prediction of an imminent US-China war reflects the US military's desire for military conflict or at least preparation for one.
· US-China “guardrails” are crucial to averting future crises but cannot be defined by Washington alone. The US’s intent on changing the status quo vis-à-vis Taiwan is currently unacceptable.
· China should no longer have any illusions about Washington’s intent to "restrain China, weaken China and hurt China". This poses the gravest threat to China’s rise that the country has so far encountered. However, Washington does not wish to completely break away from China.
· Beijing should continue to use “actions and facts” to warn the US against hegemonic behaviour.
· Beijing should continue to say no to decoupling and no to a cold war with Washington.
· Beijing should not allow individual US politicians to hijack the overall US-China relationship.
· China should continue to reform and open up, continue to deepen its ties with the world and should recognise that whoever leads the way in technological innovation and industrialisation is bound to win the overall great power game.
Author: Wang Haili (王海利), a retired PLA Air Force colonel and now a senior researcher at Taihe Institute, a Beijing-based think tank.
Published: Tuesday 7 February 2023
Source: Taihe Institute
· Some balloons carry equipment capable of transmitting signals via both military satellites and channels designed for civilian use. Such balloons can therefore be considered as both military and civilian in nature. The US is sure to use this ambiguity against China.
· The US must have known about the existence of this balloon a long time before it was made public.
· Washington probably revealed and hyped up its existence to achieve two political objectives:
Gain the upper hand in its exchanges with Beijing by fostering an atmosphere in which China would feel enough “guilt” [愧疚感] and pressure for it to become more amenable to the US.
Divert people’s attention away from potential compromises with Russia over Ukraine.
· Were the US to confirm the malicious intent of this balloon, anti-China sentiment would rise in the US, leading to more anti-China legislation and to the US military increasing its defensive and offensive measures against China.
· Continued engagement with the US is crucial but “the ball is now in the US's court” to suggest when and how such contacts should take place.
Author: Shen Yi (沈逸) – Professor at Fudan University's School of International Relations and Public Affairs
Published: Tuesday 7 February 2023
· The US had no reason to shoot the balloon down and the claim that this was a spy balloon is (of course) “absurd”.
· A lack of “strategic trust” between the US and China and, more importantly, the continued polarisation of US politics are to blame for the negative turn that this incident has taken (i.e. the shooting down of the balloon and the cancellation of Blinken’s visit to Beijing).
· The Biden administration is weak and must increasingly bow to far-right populist voices in America. This is dangerous for US-China relations.
· With the balloon’s debris yet to be analysed, Beijing’s ties with Washington could sour further and are unlikely to improve substantially “for the foreseeable future”.
Author: Sun Bingyan (孙冰岩) – Lecturer at Peking University’s School of International Studies. US politics and diplomacy specialist.
Published: Monday 6 February 2023
· The US Department of Defense had long been aware of the existence of this balloon. Washington had no need to expose this incident in such a high-profile manner and should have endeavoured to resolve this discreetly with Beijing.
· Whether or not this incident will lead to a continued worsening of US-China relations in 2023 now depends on the US’s next moves. Washington could still frame this as an isolated incident and just let it blow over.
· There is also a risk that the Biden administration will succumb to pressure from the Republicans to adopt an even tougher response to this incident.
· Anti-China sentiment among the general US public is another factor that could affect the government’s approach to this affair. This is the US’s own making. In recent years, Washington has been using the US media to hype up the threat that China poses to America’s national security. It now has to respond to such domestic pressure.
· This balloon incident may well continue to fester in the coming months and will be used as a further way of attacking China.
Very helpful. Thank you
Not one of them explained what the balloon was carrying, nor the purpose, the frequency or duration of the program.