US-Chinese Relations Strained After Chinese Surveillance Balloon Incident

On February 4th, 2023, the U.S. Air Force shot down a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina.[0] The balloon had been tracked since it launched from Hainan Island in late January, and the US intelligence community believes that it was part of a larger Chinese military surveillance program. China has admitted that the balloon was theirs but denied any intent to spy or enter US airspace. Following the incident, Secretary of State Antony Blinken cancelled a planned trip to China, citing the balloon’s incursion as unacceptable and irresponsible.[1]

Since then, two more suspected Chinese balloons were seen over Latin America, and a third was detected flying over Montana.[2] The wreckage from the first balloon has been recovered by the US Navy, and the US intelligence community has yet to find any evidence that the three recent objects are part of China’s spying program or intelligence collection against the US.[3] White House spokesperson John Kirby said Tuesday that the intelligence community is “considering as a leading explanation” that the three objects shot down over the weekend “could just be balloons tied to some commercial or benign purpose.”[4]

The US intelligence community has determined that a fleet of Chinese balloons are operating across the globe, and have connected the balloon to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), calling it “a high-altitude balloon program for intelligence collection.” In response to the balloon incident, the US Senate was given a classified briefing Tuesday on the China spy balloon, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken has denied that the US deploys surveillance balloons over China.[5]

Crews are currently recovering parts of the balloon, while US intelligence officials are assessing the possibility that it was not deliberately maneuvered into the continental US by the Chinese government and are examining whether it was diverted off course by strong winds.[6] Beijing’s decision to fly a reconnaissance balloon over the United States was a serious error that probably stemmed from both operational miscalculations and bureaucratic shortfalls, and the PLA misjudged the risk that the US would track the balloon.[7]

Ultimately, the balloon incident has become an imposing challenge to smoothing out snarled US-Chinese relations, and has prompted numerous investigations and security reviews from countries around the world.[8]

0. “How has China reacted to the balloon saga?” BBC, 14 Feb. 2023,

1. “Chinese Spy Balloon Has Unexpected Maneuverability” Scientific American, 3 Feb. 2023,

2. “China's Balloon-Size Blunder Is a Huge Opportunity” The Atlantic, 13 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. “Objects shot down aren't from China, likely ‘benign,' Kirby says” POLITICO, 14 Feb. 2023,

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

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

7. “China's balloon blunder shows the shortcomings of its national security apparatus” Atlantic Council, 14 Feb. 2023,

8. “Airborne objects update: Chinese balloon sensors are retrieved by salvage crews” NPR, 14 Feb. 2023,