China Spy Balloon Incident Reveals U.S. Politics, Not Chinese Policies

The U.S. tracked the Chinese spy balloon from its launch on Hainan Island near the south coast of China, revealing the federal government was aware of the balloon almost a week earlier than they publicly acknowledged. This incident has caused tension between Washington and Beijing, prompting Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel his planned trip to China.[0]

The Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies have monitored the balloon since it lifted off from Hainan Island in 2022. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the balloon’s incursion was a “clear violation” of international law.[1] Chinese officials have acknowledged the balloon was theirs but said it was not intended for spying or meant to enter U.S. airspace.[2]

What are spy balloons capable of?

Spy balloons are a platform for surveillance, and can be used for a range of purposes, including intelligence gathering, communication interception, and data collection. They offer certain advantages over satellites, such as lower cost, more maneuverability, and faster deployment.

U.S. intelligence officials believe the three most recent objects shot down over North America were being used for commercial or benign purposes, according to White House press secretary John Kirby.[3] All senators received a classified briefing on the China spy balloon and the three other shoot-down incidents, but few details have been released.[4]

John Kirby, National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, said there is “no indication” the objects were part of China’s spying program or used in external intelligence collection efforts against the U.S. However, Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark.[5], said the White House’s explanations appear to be “contradictory.”[4]

The U.S. is now attempting to recover debris from the balloon that sunk to the ocean bottom.[1] The balloon first crossed into US airspace over Alaska on January 28, and while it was over Alaska, officials determined it was not over critical infrastructure.[6] When President Joe Biden was informed of the balloon's presence over Montana, he ordered it to be taken down, however his military advisers informed him that it wasn't safe to do so over land.[6]

The incident has revealed more about U.S. politics than Chinese policies. Out of fear of appearing lenient towards China, the Biden administration is missing the chance to capitalize on China's mistake and create a diplomatic opportunity.[7]

0. “U.S. tracked spy balloon after it lifted off from China, officials say” CBS News, 15 Feb. 2023,

1. “US responds to China’s claims of American balloons breaching its airspace” Yahoo! Voices, 13 Feb. 2023,

2. “Chinese spy balloon over the US: An aerospace expert explains how the balloons work and what they can see” The Conversation, 4 Feb. 2023,

3. “The 3 flying objects the US shot down may have been commercial or research craft, White House says” Business Insider, 15 Feb. 2023,

4. “White House says a leading explanation for the 3 downed unidentified objects is that they were commercial or benign” NBC News, 14 Feb. 2023,

5. “Objects shot down aren't from China, likely ‘benign,' Kirby says” POLITICO, 14 Feb. 2023,

6. “US officials disclosed new details about the balloon's capabilities. Here's what we know” CNN, 10 Feb. 2023,

7. “Opinion | Diplomacy is needed after the China balloon” The Washington Post, 14 Feb. 2023,