Chinese Spy Balloon Captures the Attention of a Nation

What the week-long journey of a foreign spy vessel means for the future of U.S. global relations.


On Feb. 4, the United States military shot down a Chinese surveillance balloon just off the coast of South Carolina. The balloon, which had been traveling eastward since first entering American airspace over Alaska on Saturday, Jan. 28, was equipped with surveillance equipment including a collection pod and solar panels located on the metal truss.

“[The balloon is] traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic,” Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said in a press briefing on Feb. 3. “[The balloon] does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.”

Over the course of the next several days, the balloon made its way southward to the continental US, entering airspace above Montana, and traveled across the states to where it was eventually removed from the skies. This rather unexpected breach of American airspace was met with much controversy by the American people, as its story sprung into the national spotlight.

Many democrats were in support of President Biden’s decision to handle the situation in a safe manner that provoked no harm to any American lives, while also criticizing the Chinese.

“I strongly condemn [Chinese] President Xi’s brazen incursion into American airspace,” Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said. “And I commend President Biden’s leadership in taking down the Chinese balloon over water to ensure safety for all Americans. Now we can collect the equipment and analyze the technology used by the CCP [Chinese Communist Party].”

Many Republicans however, criticized POTUS’s action regarding the balloon, raising questions about the delayed action.

“If it was worth shooting down, why was it permitted to drift across the continental US first?” Representative Dan Bishop (R-NC) said. “Can [the balloon’s] mechanisms be recovered and examined?

While this rather small-scale breach of our borders captured the public eye, it was only a metaphor for the ongoing controversy between the two nations. Disputes over territorial issues regarding the South China Sea, economic issues such the ongoing trade war between the two nations and human rights concerns such as the torturing of the Uighur Muslims in China and the claiming of Taiwan have been only a few of the issues the two nations have had disputes over for the past few years.

The difference between this conflict and previous ones is that this ‘spy balloon’ was here, in American airspace. While the setting of other conflicts has been far from American soil, by putting the issue in US territory, the Chinese were able to capture the attention of US citizens and learn how our nation would handle such a low-level threat. While this may amount to nothing more than the movement of a pawn is the US and China’s cat-and-mouse game, it could be an indicator of what could be in store for the future of this global rivalry.