Much Ado About A Well-Timed Balloon

(MENAFN- Asia Times)

A huge white balloon equivalent in size to three buses drifted from China over Alaska and Canada, and then over Montana and across the US continent before reaching the Carolinas coast.

At that point, the Pentagon deemed it safe to send a couple of jet fighters supported by a fuel tanker to bring down the errant balloon and let the remnants fall into the Atlantic Ocean.

After firing missiles at the target, the mission was completed and deemed a triumphant success. And the brave pilots returned to home base safely.

The Biden White House first knew about the balloon on January 28 and shot it down a week later. In between, Washington expressed outrage, fear and anxiety over the“invasion” of a spy balloon from China.

Also read: why did china send a balloon?

Beijing's official response was that it was a civilian balloon for weather surveillance that went off course and hardly warranted the extreme response of a missile attack.

Beijing did not feel it necessary to point out that high-flying balloons cannot gather intelligence as effectively as satellites or aircraft. The Pentagon certainly knows this better than anyone. It has been flying surveillance planes off the coast of China for years – though no balloons that we know of.

Needless to say, a highly visible white finish is hardly appropriate for a spy balloon that would logically want to be stealthy.

But it is, on the other hand, a well-known fact that thousands of weather balloons are released annually by many countries for the purpose of forecasting weather. Once in a while, a balloon will drift off course because of atmospheric conditions, which is not surprising and should not trigger any outpouring of emotional trauma.

Aside from the fact that the wandering balloon gave Washington the opportunity to make a mountain of propaganda against China's“aggressiveness” molehill, otherwise known as xiaotidazhuo (小题大做), the incident also got Secretary of State Antony Blinken off the hook.

For weeks, Blinken has publicly announced his intention to visit Beijing. Then he got specific and set the dates of his visit as February 5 and 6. This presented China's Foreign Ministry with a thorny problem.

Aside from not having extended a formal invitation, the Chinese didn't know what to talk to Blinken about. China has experienced a litany of the US saying one thing and doing just the opposite. A trust deficit exists that can't be papered over.

At the Group of Twenty Summit in Bali in November, US President Joe Biden promised to abide by the one-China principle, and then promptly enacted a bill to provide $10 billion worth of advanced weapons to Taiwan and celebrated the hijacking of a TSMC fab to Arizona.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen flew to Switzerland to meet with Vice-Premier Liu He, China's economic czar, to ask for China's support of American debt and not to divest US Treasury notes and bills that China was holding. Then she flew to Africa to badmouth China and warn Africans of Chinese“debt trap” diplomacy.

Since Blinken's ill-fated first meeting with Chinese leaders in charge of foreign policy, in Anchorage, Alaska, in March 2021, he has not altered his style of diplomacy. It's“here are my list of demands and expectations in advance and now let's talk.”

China's style of diplomacy is more nuanced, and telling Blinken to go hell or even to go Tianjin is just not its way. Instead, an innocently wandering balloon gives Blinken a face-saving way to postpone the self-invited visit to China.

Note, he didn't say he is canceling the visit, just postponing the trip. Despite his harsh, blunt approach, he does understand that the US desperately needs China's willing collaboration. With China, he needs to act like he understands it can't be all take and no give.

George Koo retired from a global advisory services firm where he advised clients on their China strategies and business operations. Educated at MIT, Stevens Institute and Santa Clara University, he is the founder and former managing director of International Strategic Alliances. He is currently a board member of Freschfield's, a novel green building platform.


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