By Nicole Trinkl
An American military fighter jet shot down a white balloon over South Carolina's coast on Feb. 4, under President Biden's orders following speculation that it may have been a Chinese spy balloon traveling across the United States.
According to the Washington Post, the balloon entered American airspace on Jan. 28, flying over southern Alaska, entering Canadian airspace on Jan. 30 and traveling over northern Idaho, Montana, Kansas and Missouri between Jan. 31 and Feb. 3 before reaching the Atlantic Ocean.
The Chinese government’s purpose for letting this balloon head toward the west is unclear, but according to the New York Times, places like Montana are home to American Air Force bases that maintain intercontinental ballistic missiles, leading to speculation that China could have been gathering sensitive information.
A spokesperson for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to the United States’ accusations by saying that the balloon was "a civilian airship used for research, mainly [for] meteorological purposes" and that they regret "the unintended entry of the airship into U.S. airspace due to force majeure."
When the U.S. did shoot down the balloon in the Atlantic, China showed great dissatisfaction with the action. China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded by saying that "the U.S. insists on using force, obviously overreacting and seriously violating international practice."
When it was safely shot down, local videos captured the missile hitting the balloon and the debris falling out of the sky. U.S. officials would later recover that debris and examine what they called the "Chinese surveillance equipment."
Reuters reported that, due to China's spy balloon, Secretary of State Antony Blinken decided to postpone his trip to China, which Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping had arranged to improve US-China relations.
The U.S. government spoke directly with China after the balloon was shot down, along with
briefing 40 other nations on the incident.
According to Reuters, Wendy Sherman, Deputy Secretary of State, said, “We want to make sure that we are sharing as much as we can with countries around the world who may also be susceptible to these types of operations.”
During the 2023 State of the Union Address, Biden addressed the Chinese spy balloon and its implications.
“Make no mistake about it, as we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country,” Biden said. “The bridges we’re forming between partners in the Pacific, and those in the Atlantic and those who have bet against America are learning how wrong they are. It's never ever been a good bet to bet against America.”
Tensions are mounting between the two great nations making people wonder what this potential territorial aggression will lead to during this unsettling time. Since the spy balloon incident, more unidentified objects in U.S. airspace have been shot down, bringing into question whether these unidentified objects are more of China’s “surveillance equipment" or another potential threat. The origins of these objects are unclear, but officials are looking into potential explanations.