Spy Balloons: A new chapter in the US-China intelligence crisis

Although China refrains from responding to America's policy by using military force, its efforts to gather intelligence by violating the U.S. airspace show that the struggle will continue in different areas.

For about two weeks, the American public has been busy with China’s “spy” balloon, which has been spotted over the country’s airspace. The balloon, which topped the agenda, was watched with the naked eye of the public as it flew over American airspace, and it became a new area of a diplomatic rift between the U.S. and China. Foreign Minister Antony Blinken reacted by canceling his planned trip to China. In the face of public pressure as to why the balloon was not dropped as soon as possible, the White House said that they did not want the shooting of the balloon to harm the civilian population. After the balloon was shot over the Atlantic Ocean after crossing the country and its parts were collected, the shooting of 3 different objects with warplanes this weekend showed that the spy balloon crisis was growing. The fact that the intelligence wars between the U.S. and China have gained a new dimension in this way indicates that the power struggle between the two countries has spread to areas that require advanced technology such as cyber, space, and the Arctic, apart from conventional areas.

While China accepts that this balloon is its own, it argues that the vehicle was used to monitor the weather conditions and deviated from its route and headed for North America. He said that the balloon, which he dropped in cooperation with the North American Air Defense Command Canada, has high-level sensors and antennas, and panels that use solar energy, which proves its intelligence hardware. He also explained that this incident was not an exception to the United States and that China used the balloon method to gather intelligence from around 40 different countries on different continents of the world. The fact that China’s balloons can fly at altitudes above the planes prevents them from being caught on the radar and it is stated that they are preferred because they are very low-cost vehicles. President Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau said they were determined to protect the North American skies, while China argued that the US’s military operation to lower the balloons was an overreaction. This is the first time that an aircraft was shot down in this way in North America, indicating that possible crises will create new areas of conflict.

US and Canadian officials, who were certain that the first balloon dropped was China’s spy balloon, did not make a clear statement about the objects hit over the weekend in Alaska, Canada, and the state of Michigan. The American Air Force had previously informed Congress about the objects observed over the US military facilities and called ‘unexplained weather phenomenon’. While there were many speculations about the source of these objects, which are called UFOs among the people, the Pentagon announced that they could not determine the exact source. The fact that these objects have been hit in this way in the last few days is explained by the fact that the radars of the North American Air Defense Command have detected more objects as they have increased their sensitivity. The Air Force’s response to the question, “Can you say with certainty that these objects are not extraterrestrial, is interesting: “We are not denying anything at this stage.”

Recognizing that these objects are tools that China uses to gather intelligence, like a spy balloon, will put pressure on the Biden administration to respond in kind. Therefore, it is possible to say that the American army is cautious for now, but it is known that China is developing both its cyber and space capacities and is competing with both the U.S. and Russia for dominance in the Arctic region. On the other hand, it is known that the U.S. intimidated China about Taiwan over the Ukraine war. It is a fact that China has an advantage in terms of its army and navy in a possible annexation attempt, but it is also clear that the U.S. will want to make China pay a heavy price. It is known that the Biden administration is trying to balance and ultimately break the influence of China in the region by deepening its relations with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and India.

Although China refrains from responding to America’s policy by using military force, its efforts to gather intelligence by violating the U.S. airspace show that the struggle will continue in different areas. It was meant to demonstrate to the public how aggressively China’s efforts to gain an asymmetrical advantage by using advanced technologies continue in the cyber field. It is understood that China, which has improved its combat capabilities in space and placed high-tech satellites in orbit around the world, has also developed aerial spying tools that will not be caught on the radar in every continent of the world. This situation shows how the struggle between the great powers continues in different areas and that a possible conflict will have much more difficult sides to gain superiority, apart from its conventional dimension.

[Yeni Şafak, February 14 2023]

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