Lawmakers and policy experts are weighing in after a Chinese “spy balloon” appeared over the U.S. earlier this week.
“America is under assault from Chinese spying and if the Biden Administration refuses [to] respond it will send a message to the Chinese military that they can send even more spy balloons. Inaction invites dangerous behavior,” Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, told The Daily Signal in an emailed statement.
Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, press secretary for the Pentagon, said in a Thursday statement that “the United States Government has detected and is tracking a high altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now. The U.S. government, to include NORAD, continues to track and monitor it closely.”
“The balloon is currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground. Instances of this kind of balloon activity have been observed previously over the past several years,” Ryder said. “Once the balloon was detected, the U.S. government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information.”
CNBC News reported that the balloon appeared in the sky above Montana.
“We should take everything China does seriously because China does everything with intentionality and the intentions are never good for us. Priority one is what is China up to and why?” James Carafano, vice president of The Heritage Foundation’s Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, told The Daily Signal in an email. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
“China’s response is completely mendacious and really demonstrates how little we can trust the Chinese. From the limited information we have it is clear this is an illegal military surveillance mission—and now the Pentagon admits not the first,” Carafano said. “To be frank, [President Joe] Biden’s equivocation and fecklessness on foreign policy invites adventurism. We have seen it from the Russians and now we are seeing it from China.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken planned to visit Beijing, but the Biden administration postponed his trip in response to the Chinese balloon, Bloomberg reported.
Carafano encouraged Blinken not to go.
“The U.S. response has not been clear and decisive enough. Blinken was going to meet with the Chinese. He should not. The Chinese have tried this before. Americans should have been told and action should have been taken,” Carafano said.
Victoria Coates, senior research fellow in international affairs and national security at The Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, also weighed in on the Chinese balloon’s significance.
“This is yet another example of the People’s Republic of China incrementally testing U.S. tolerance of their intrusive surveillance campaign against us, using both low and high tech techniques,” Coates told The Daily Signal in an email.
“It’s no accident that this incident occurred on the eve of Secretary Blinken’s trip to China when the U.S. would be particularly reluctant to provoke an incident by taking action over the balloon—and shows us that Beijing cares far less than the Biden administration about diplomatic rapprochement between our countries and far more about demonstrating their reach and power,” Coates also said.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson confirmed on Friday that the balloon belongs to China.
“The airship is from China. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course.”
“The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure,” the spokesperson added, using a technical term in international law to refer to a force beyond the control of a state. “The Chinese side will continue communicating with the US side and properly handle this unexpected situation caused by force majeure.”
Reps. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., and Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., released a joint statement on Thursday saying, “The Chinese Communist Party should not have on-demand access to American airspace.”
Gallagher is the chairman and Krishnamoorthi is the ranking member of the select committee on China. The full name of the panel Republican leadership created on Jan. 10 is the “House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the U.S. and the Chinese Communist Party.”
“Not only is this a violation of American sovereignty, coming only days before Secretary Blinken’s trip to the PRC, but it also makes clear that the CCP’s recent diplomatic overtures do not represent a substantive change in policy,” the congressmen said. “Indeed, this incident demonstrates that the CCP threat is not confined to distant shores—it is here at home and we must act to counter this threat.”
Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper “[thinks] it is a brazen act by the Chinese to do this.”
“We were just talking about whether or not it has more or less intelligence value than what they currently have. I don’t think we know. And so, my interest would be not necessarily shooting it down, but bringing it down so that we can capture the equipment and understand exactly what they’re doing,” Esper told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins on Friday morning.
“Are they taking pictures? Are they intercepting signals? What are they doing and what is the level of technical capability? It will tell us a lot about what they’re trying to do, what they’re trying to learn, and what their capability is of doing that. Now, failing that, I would definitely shoot it down, provided that there’s no risk to people on the ground,” Esper continued.
Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., penned a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday “regarding the concerning event of a high altitude surveillance balloon detected in Montana which has resulted in national security concerns as well as disruptions in civilian air traffic in Billings, Montana,” Fox News first reported.
“The fact that this balloon was occupying Montana airspace creates significant concern that Malmstrom Air Force Base (AFB) and the United States’ intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) fields are the target of this intelligence gathering mission,” Daines said.
“Given the serious nature of the event, I am requesting a full security briefing from the administration on this situation. It is vital to establish the flight path of this balloon, any compromised U.S. national security assets, and all telecom or IT infrastructure on the ground within the U.S. that this spy- balloon was utilizing,” the senator also said.
The White House and the State Department did not immediately respond to The Daily Signal’s requests for comment.
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