Balloon case demonstrates US hysteria vis-à-vis China
The Joe Biden administration's handling of the Chinese balloon case last week was meant to showcase the United States' strategic strength amid fierce attacks by Republicans and the low approval ratings of US officials. But instead it has shown to the world how immature and irresponsible — indeed hysterical — the US has been in dealing with the case.
To begin with, many US officials, media outlets and political pundits claim it was a "spy balloon" despite not having any evidence to back up their claim and regardless of China explaining that it was a balloon for research, mainly meteorological research, which went out of control and deviated far from its planned course due to strong winds.
For at least a week, the whole US has been obsessed with the Chinese civilian balloon, as US politicians and media projected it as a grave threat to US national security. But they should realize that it does not make sense for China to spy on the US using a balloon the size of three school buses while modern surveillance satellites can do a much better job, and surreptitiously too.
Speaking of spying, no country employs surveillance more widely and aggressively than the US, including its frequent military surveillance flights near China's shores, which even people such as former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger and former US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski regarded as provocative. How would the US respond if China were to conduct frequent surveillance flights off the coast of California, New York or Florida?
The Biden administration's decisions on the balloon episode were hijacked by US domestic politics. Republicans, from new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to Senator Marco Rubio, have spared no efforts to attack Biden for "being weak" in handling the case. The fierce attacks came just days before Biden's State of the Union address on Tuesday, at a time when public opinions are not in his favor.
The latest Gallup poll shows that most Americans remain unhappy with the way things are going in the US. Only 23 percent say they are satisfied, while 76 percent say they are dissatisfied, including 48 percent who are "very dissatisfied".
Biden's approval rating in the second year in office is only 41 percent, among the lowest since president John F. Kennedy and only slightly higher than Donald Trump's 40.4 percent.
All these have prompted the Biden administration to overreact to the balloon incident, including dispatching an F-22 fighter jet on Saturday to shoot down the civilian balloon with an AIM 9X Sidewinder missile worth $400,000 as well as "postponing" a trip of Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Beijing.
That has set a very bad precedent for the two countries in terms of handling similar cases in the future. Just remember, China didn't fire at the real US military spy plane, EP3, when it made an emergency landing in China's Hainan island on April 1, 2001, without any permission from the Chinese authorities.
For years, China and the US have been trying to establish targeted mechanisms to avoid misjudgments and miscalculations, especially between the US and Chinese militaries to prevent accidents from spiraling into a conflict or confrontation.
Resorting to force and shooting down a civilian research balloon that veered off course is clearly not a responsible and proper way of handling such a case. As the world's two largest economies, the US and China should increase communication and mutual understanding so that they can better handle such cases in the future.
The US should have dealt with the balloon case in a calm and responsible way without letting it being hijacked by the bitter domestic partisan politics because a conflict between the two countries would spell disaster for the entire world.
The author is chief of China Daily EU Bureau based in Brussels.