Shadow games as Joe Biden pricks China’s balloon

The United States president warns Beijing about threatening American sovereignty in airship row

Shadows of a Chinese balloon crept across President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address in Washington on a night of high drama.

Mingled amid his domestic agenda and party politics was the issue that has triggered more diplomatic hot air than an aerial armada.

“Make no mistake, as we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did,” Biden said in his speech to a joint session of the United States Congress on Tuesday.

In a surreal 72 hours, Beijing and Washington had been locked in a standoff after a suspected Chinese “spy” balloon was spotted flying over Montana more than a week ago. 

The US state is home to part of an extensive US nuclear arsenal, sparking a war of wars between the world’s two economic superpowers.

By Sunday, the US Navy was scouring the coastline of South Carolina after the high-tech airship was shot down over the Atlantic Ocean by an F-22 fighter jet.

Three days later, the fallout continued.

The airship belongs to China, not the US.

Mao Ning, a spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry

Between the lines:

  • Alternative news, propaganda, and censorship have been deployed by Beijing.
  • State-run media such as Global Times and China Daily continue to parrot the ruling Communist Party line.
  • After originally apologizing for the incident and expressing “regrets,” the mood has changed.
  • China’s Ministry of National Defense insisted that what the Pentagon described as a “Chinese surveillance” airship was in fact a “civilian weather balloon.”

Delve deeper: “The airship belongs to China, not the US,” Mao Ning, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said this week as the US Navy was sifting through the debris.

Big picture: In an exclusive report, the Washington Post described the “Chinese balloon as part of a vast aerial surveillance program run by the People’s Liberation Army in Hainan province off China’s south coast, US officials said.”

Behind the scenes: “People in China are interpreting the spy balloon drama through the lens of alternative facts, propaganda, and censorship – underscoring how divergent information environments are deepening the chasm between the US and China,” Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian wrote in the Axios China newsletter on Tuesday.

China Factor comment: If there is any doubt that the US and China are ensnared in a New Cold War, “Balloongate” pricked that notion.