The United States Defense Department has been closely monitoring a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon as it traveled over the continental United States. According to a senior defense official, the Pentagon has been tracking the high-altitude balloon for several days, as it made its way over the northern part of the country.
Pentagon spokesman, Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, confirmed that the US military has decided against shooting the balloon down, as it is currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present any military or physical threat to the people on the ground. “We are confident that this high-altitude surveillance balloon belongs to the People’s Republic of China,” said the senior defense official. “Instances of this activity have been observed over the past several years, including prior to this administration.”
To address the situation, the US government has engaged with the Chinese government through both the Chinese embassy in Washington and the US diplomatic mission in China. According to Ryder, the balloon “does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.” The senior defense official added that it was the strong recommendation of senior military leaders, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, not to take any kinetic action due to the risk it poses to the safety and security of people on the ground from the possible debris field.
The officials have assessed that the balloon has limited additive value from an intelligence collection perspective. The news of the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon comes at a time when Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to travel to Beijing in the near future, following up on President Joe Biden’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping last year. During the meeting, President Biden described the conversation as “open and candid,” and stated that while he wasn’t suggesting it was “kumbaya,” he didn’t believe there was a need for concern of a new Cold War.
Tensions between the United States and China have escalated in recent months, with the visit of then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan last August leading to China’s announcement of military exercises at the same time. The situation surrounding the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon highlights the ongoing tensions between the two nations and the importance of continued communication and dialogue to address potential issues and maintain peace.