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Tipsheet

China Is Not Happy That We Shot Down Their Spy Balloon

Elizabeth Dalziel

This Chinese spy balloon fiasco could have been avoided—at least, that’s the feeling, and you don’t need a security clearance to have that assumption. We have the capability to track these devices; we’ve been on pins and needles regarding missile launches since the Cold War. We never saw this balloon coming. It’s a balloon—one that measured three bus lengths and drifted at high altitudes, but a balloon, nonetheless. China regretted this spy balloon which hovered over areas where we house nuclear missiles. Montana is where passengers on a commercial airliner reportedly spotted this Beijing bag of tricks launched from Central China. 

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China’s reaction to the US was as expected: don’t overreact because this balloon drifted off course. For once, Joe Biden made the right call by wanting to shoot it down—the Pentagon advised against it. This spy balloon drifted with impunity across American skies for days before being shot down yesterday. And Beijing was none too pleased (via NBC News): 

The U.S. downed the Chinese surveillance balloon off the Carolina coast on Saturday, a U.S. official said, setting off a tense exchange between both nations. 

An F-22 raptor with a single missile shot the balloon down at 2:39 p.m., according to a senior defense official. It was between 60,000 to 65,000 feet in the air when it was downed. 

The action came a couple of hours after President Joe Biden responded to a reporter who asked whether the U.S. would shoot down the balloon. “We’re gonna take care of it,” Biden said, in his first public remarks about the balloon. 

In remarks to reporters after the balloon was shot down, Biden said he made the order to the Pentagon after he was briefed on Wednesday. 

[…] 

The U.S. and China exchanged strong words after the balloon was downed, with China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressing in a statement its "strong dissatisfaction and protest over the use of force" by the U.S. 

“The Chinese side had clearly requested the U.S. side to handle the situation properly in a calm, professional and restrained manner,” the statement said, adding that the U.S. was an “obvious over-reaction and a serious violation of international customary practice.” 

“The Chinese side will resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of the companies concerned, while reserving the right to make further necessary responses,” the statement said. 

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The reasoning behind not shooting it down upon discovery was the fear that falling debris could kill civilians. The Biden administration’s initial response ranged from a shambles to snippy, as people wondered how the Pentagon, which oversees the largest defense budget in the world, was afraid of a balloon.  

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