Balloon Wars: The Espionage Battle Between China and the United States


Chris Jorgensen

The Chinese and United States’ governments have been quarreling over the violation of the U.S. airspace with multiple instances of alleged “spy balloons” crossing through the United States. Photo courtesy Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via AP

Connor Gilbert, Journalist

Chinese officials claim the balloon is an unmanned weather aircraft that got blown off course but has yet to say what government agency or department was responsible for the aircraft’s launch. The balloon has also been confirmed to have been capable of performing surveillance on the U.S. via multiple channels, such as wiretapping into communications radio channels.  

United States officials have revealed they were tracking the balloon since it originally launched in Hainan Island. The balloon appeared to be on track for Hawaii but was blown off course by rough winds; However, it came under Chinese control again once it reached the continental U.S. The balloon was tracked as it traveled from Alaska to Canada and from Montana to South Carolina. The balloon eventually flew over Myrtle Beach, where it was shot down.  

“I expect to be speaking with President Xi and I hope we are going to get to the bottom of this.” President Joe Biden had to say in a press conference. “I make no apologies for taking down that balloon.” 

While Biden is seeking a trip to Beijing, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has canceled his, leading to further fallout from the situation. If Blinken made the trip, it would have marked the first time an American high-level diplomat visited China in over five years. 

In an archived recording, Blinken had this to say about his cancellation of the trip to China: “China’s decision to fly a surveillance balloon over the continental United States is both unacceptable and irresponsible. That’s what this is about. It’s a violation of our sovereignty. It’s a violation of international law.”  

China has recently accused the United States of sending their own spy balloons and aircraft into Chinese airspace since early 2022, allegedly targeting Tibet and Uyghur areas of Xinjiang. The United States has denied this claim. 

China’s airspace violation claims leave many things unclear, such as when and how the aircraft was discovered, whether the United States was told about the aircraft, or how they responded to the aircraft.  

While originally apologetic about the balloon situation, China has turned more hostile after the balloon was shot down, saying it would “take countermeasures” against “relevant American entities.”

The situation between the United States and China over airspace violations has suddenly and uncomfortably shifted the relations between the two superpowers slowly working towards more comfortable terms and healing of past wounds. This international dispute has increased unrest inside and outside of both states’ borders and has created a path looking towards more years of tense relations between the two superpowers.