Balloon Spying or Collecting Weather Information

The present and future situation with the Chinese “Spy Balloon” shot down?


Reuters and BBC

The Sky High Balloon was estimated to be 60 meters or 196.85 feet tall and was surmised to be carrying an airliner-sized load. History Teacher Dr. Jeff Geoghegan said, “US intelligence is still trying to piece together (quite literally) what kind of information the spy balloon was gathering as it crossed the US.” He later said, “But they have determined that the balloon’s instrumentation likely had the capability of collecting and geo-locating US communications.”

David Lai, Staff Writer

Late January, China sent a spy balloon over U.S. territory to gather military information. Ultimately, an f-22 stealth fighter shot down the spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina. As of February 27th, the U.S. has shot down four unknown objects in eight days.

This is not the first time in history that the U.S. has seen a spy balloon. During the Trump Administration, a Chinese spy balloon made its way to Florida and Texas. Other countries such as Costa Rica, Latin America, and even Japan have seen Chinese spy balloons fly over their airspace.

Leading right into the most recent incident. The reported spy balloon was spotted around 60,000 feet over Billings, Montana. Dr. Ho — coordinator of the China program at Singapore’s S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said, “They [the Chinese] have other means to spy out American infrastructure, or whatever information they wanted to obtain.” 

The spy balloon was reportedly part of a broader Chinese spy effort to gather data on military bases. A senior U.S. official said, “This was a discrete program — part of a larger set of programs that are about gaining greater clarity about military facilities in the United States and in a variety of other countries.” According to USA Today, it was an espionage mission as the balloon had the capability to intercept communications. The Pentagon flew a U-2 spy plane to examine the spy balloon’s gear and they found that the balloon had the capability to conduct “signals intelligence collection operations,” said an unnamed State Department spokesperson

The Chinese government scrambled to cover up this story by saying that it was a weather balloon collecting meteorological data that was blown off course. They started off saying how they were sorry and regretful but in the end, turned to criticize the U.S. for overreacting. Many Chinese State media became more defensive. For instance, the China Daily said that the “fabricated balloon lie cannot be tied down to China” and the Global Times said that the U.S. needs “to be more sincere in fixing relations with China instead of making provocative actions against it”.

The shooting of the “spy balloon” has made the relationship even tighter between the two countries. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the U.S. response an “overreaction” and Xie Feng – Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China summoned U.S. Embassy officials for an official diplomatic protest. He also called the shooting an “abusive use of force.” He further blamed the U.S. for weakening the relationship that was in the works of stabilization

The U.S. continues to blame China for not only sending spy balloons into their air space but also into other countries. The Chinese blame the U.S. for sending 10 spy balloons last year over Chinese airspace. One of President Joe Biden’s top foreign policy goals is to stabilize the relationship with China, but this balloon incident, as with the other incidents, has made China look guiltier, making the relationship flimsy according to the LA Times.

Looking at the coming months and years, Mr. Blinken said, “I told Director Wang [Yi, China’s highest-ranking diplomat] that the United States remains committed to diplomatic engagement with China and that I plan to visit Beijing when conditions allow.” China is also going to hold its National People’s Congress in March and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is potentially traveling to Taiwan amid fears about a conflict between Taiwan and China

According to the New York Times, President Biden said, “We don’t yet know exactly what these three objects were, but nothing right now suggests they were related to China’s spy balloon program or that they were surveillance vehicles from any other country.” He later said, “The intelligence community’s current assessment is that these three objects were most likely balloons tied to private companies, recreation or research institutions studying weather or conducting other scientific research.”

Furthermore, according to The Hill, in an interview with PBS NewsHour President Biden was asked if relations have taken a hit, and Biden responded, “No.”

History teacher Dr. Jeff Geoghegan said, “President Biden has stated that this incident has not changed the overall status of the U.S.’s relationship with China, and he has every expectation that the U.S. and China will cooperate on issues of mutual interest and importance. Only time will tell if this will be the case.” Dr. Geoghegan said that this came from the shoes of President Biden and that in reality to him, the Chinese spy balloon will “add to what is already a really strained relationship.” 

This was the first time many students at the Bishop’s school heard of or talked about a spy balloon. William Guo (‘24), who is really interested in history and political science said, “This is very aggressive. We’ve had encounters with China such as intellectual breach by Chinese spies, China sending spies to the U.S. to collect data but we haven’t seen such a blatant invasion of U.S. territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

Celeste Oder (‘26) who takes Modern World History (MWH) and likes to stay informed on current news concurred: “This is definitely more dramatic than anything in history.” Moreover, Selene Wang (‘25) who does Model United Nations (MUN) and speech and debate and is interested in history and world politics in general (especially Chinese and American politics), said that the U.S. public has never seen something like this to this extent.

These past incidents lead right into the most recent and most publicized one. Dylan Navarette (‘24), who participates in Speech and Debate and MUN, said, “On a more political level and not an espionage level, it was to gauge what the U.S. reaction would be and how the Biden administration would react to a breach of sovereignty air space.” Dylan also said that China was not only testing Biden’s response time to shoot the “spy balloon” down but also America’s response.

Additionally, William said that since the “Spy Balloon” went over Montana, China wanted to spy on U.S. Military Bases to capture images that are better quality than satellite imagery. 

The Chinese “Spy Balloon” event has many implications for the U.S. as well as the U.S.-China Relationship. Dylan said, “The U.S. government is seeing that China is more willing to test U.S. waters and it is reigniting fears that China is possibly coming after the United States.” Furthering the statement of a Chinese attack, Celeste said that since they are gathering nuclear and military capabilities, and military information, this is valuable information China might want to know if they wanted to attack the U.S. in the future. On the topic of military information, William said that since the balloon could be spying on U.S. military installations, “any information leak to China is bad”. 

Selene said, “it could increase tensions between the two countries because not only do the U.S. and China have to contend with who gets to be the world power but also now there’s a specific military/surveillance incident that they have to worry about.” Furthering the sentiment of straining the relationship, Dylan said, “they sent a spy balloon over United States territory and I think that this is adding to the fears that a bigger and higher scaled conflict could be brewing between the two nations.” 

Not to mention the well-known state of the union address given by President Joe Biden this year. William said, “President Biden mentioned that we need to unite as a country to compete against China. He specifically said Xi Jinping’s name and called him out in his state of the union address, which is very significant.” He added that this would affect the relationship “negatively for sure, it was already on a rocky road, this Blinkin trip was supposed to sort things out but we are going to be on an even rockier road.”

With the spy balloon in U.S. possession and the relationship between U.S. and China boiling even hotter, this incident calls into question the future of not only this affair happening again but the relationship. Dylan said, “It could become increasingly likely that there are surveillance attacks, especially the use of satellites and different types of espionage situations. Overall, I don’t think that we would see anything to the scale of this at least the American public knows of for quite a while.” Both William and Celeste agreed that China may do something along the same lines. In the end, Selene said that she looks forward to “seeing how this plays out.”