Balloon Fiasco Suggests Disarray in Beijing

Cancellation of Blinken's trip hurts Xi Jinping, still reeling from COVID moves
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 6, 2023 12:36 PM CST
Balloon Fiasco Was Exactly What Xi Jinping Didn't Need
In this photo, a large balloon drifts above the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of South Carolina, on Saturday. It was later shot down by a US military jet.   (Chad Fish via AP)

After a US spy plane collided with a Chinese jet fighter over China's Hainan Island more than 20 years ago, the two nations set up hotlines and promised better communications, writes David Sanger in a New York Times analysis. Last week's bizarre balloon story illustrates a failure on that front. "The fact that Chinese officials, realizing that the balloon had been spotted, did not call to work out a way to deal with it was revealing," writes Sanger. It also suggests that China's own intelligence network isn't communicating with its nation's civilian leadership, he adds. For the record, China continues to insist the balloon was a weather balloon, though the US says it was for surveillance. US authorities continue to search the Atlantic for debris that could settle the issue after shooting down the balloon on Saturday. More:

  • Misplay by Xi? Another analysis at the BBC suggests China badly misplayed the situation. Xi Jinping, smarting from his "sudden and embarrassing" reversal on COVID policies amid widespread protests, could have used the diplomatic boost from the now-scuttled visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, writes Stephen McDonell. Some think the deployment of the balloon was a deliberate, provocative move by Beijing to challenge President Biden, but McDonnell disagrees. "When you consider the damage it has done in terms of derailing a visit that the Chinese government, right up to the very top, wanted to happen, it is hard to see how this analysis stacks up," he writes.
  • A prediction: China had no choice but to respond forcefully in public to save face, according to a Reuters story quoting analysts. But most agree it will blow over. "I'd expect they'd protest moderately but hope to sweep this under the rug and reinstate progress on senior-level visits within months," says Christopher Twomey of the US Naval Postgraduate School in California. A survey of China's social media suggests that people in China were largely shrugging off the incident, rather than getting angry over the US decision to destroy the balloon.
(More spy balloon stories.)

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