China’s Balloon Espionage Over the US: Bold but Clumsy Tactic

China’s recent flight of a suspected surveillance balloon over the US seems to indicate a more assertive and unexpected espionage strategy than previous methods, such as satellite surveillance and intellectual property theft, according to security experts.

The US and China have used aerial surveillance satellites for years, but China’s recent use of balloons has raised questions in Washington. Former National Security Advisor John Bolton referred to the move as “amateurish,” questioning the low resolution of China’s satellite cameras.

This balloon incident occurs amid China’s military expansion and challenges to US military power in the Pacific, as well as accusations of Beijing’s habitual attempts to acquire confidential information and knowledge from American businesses.

China has accused U.S. politicians and media of exploiting the situation and discrediting the country. The country stated that the balloon, which entered U.S. airspace, was meant for civilian meteorological and scientific purposes, and has previously dismissed allegations of espionage. According to China, the United States has a Cold War mentality and has exaggerated the “China threat.”

Dean Cheng, a senior advisor to the China program at the U.S. Institute of Peace, described the balloon as intentionally provocative. He stated, “This is a way to evaluate the other side’s response, not from a military perspective, but from a political viewpoint. What actions will be taken? Will it be kept quiet? If there have been multiple instances of this type of incident, it raises a question. What happened to the previous balloons? Were they shot down?”

Senator Mike Rounds, a Republican representative on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, told Fox News that it would be advantageous to retrieve the balloon to determine if it was intended to gather information or to evaluate the response capabilities of the U.S.

Urban Sky’s co-founder, Andrew Antonio, stated that the wind currents, which high-altitude balloons rely on for direction during long journeys, were least predictable in winter. This, according to Antonio, indicates that China may not have had a specific target in mind in the U.S.

“It is challenging, if not impossible,” Antonio explained, “to aim for a particular military base in the U.S. from a launch site in China during January or February in the northern hemisphere.” He speculated that the balloon’s presence in U.S. airspace could have resulted from a failed experiment or a malfunction in its self-termination mechanism.

Adding to the uncertainty, a statement from the Pentagon announced the observation of another Chinese balloon over Latin America on Friday night.

FBI Director Christopher Wray stated in 2020 that China posed the greatest long-term threat to U.S. information and intellectual property, specifically in terms of counterintelligence and economic espionage.

According to the FBI, China’s quest for American trade secrets has become so rampant that the agency estimates it opens a new counter-intelligence operation targeting China every 12 hours.

This is because the country has been using graduate students and others with links to China to gain access to sensitive information by studying at research universities, working at tech firms, or hacking into computer systems.

An expert, Mark Zaid, a lawyer in Washington, noted that the problem is mostly in the academic and scientific world and that China is becoming increasingly aggressive for an unknown reason. On the other hand, the US has also been accused of spying by China.

In the past, the US used high-altitude aircraft for surveillance and flew them over countries such as the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba.

However, US-China relations declined in 2001 when a US Navy plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet in the South China Sea.

Another incident occurred in 2009 when the Pentagon claimed that five Chinese ships, including a naval vessel, harassed a US Navy ship in international waters off Hainan, which China countered was carrying out an illegal survey.

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