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Xi Jinping to use ‘pretext’ to shoot down US plane over South China Sea after spy balloon fiasco

Xi Jinping to use ‘pretext’ to shoot down US plane over South China Sea after spy balloon fiasco


When the story of America’s war with China is written, it will begin with the story of a gigantic balloon.

It will also tell the story of the US Secretary of Defense’s meeting with Philippine leaders to contain communist China in its own strategic backyard.

Around the same time the Chinese spy balloon entered US airspace over the remote Aleutian Islands of Alaska, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin expressed appreciation for Manila’s endorsement of four locations euphemistically called Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

China knows they have Biden where they want him

The agreement, which allows the United States to station military personnel and defense equipment indefinitely at specific sites in the Philippines, is intended to stave off the next crisis in the region.

To add salt to Chinese wounds, Austin doubled down on America’s commitment to the Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty and to Manila’s armed forces, state ships or planes anywhere in the South China Sea.

It must have been too much for Beijing, which became too sensitive to the idea of ​​America flexing its muscle in the region.

Two people can play this game.

Enter the ball

It was probably around this time last week that Beijing – or a clique in Beijing wary of easing tensions with the United States – launched a high-altitude balloon into the atmosphere.

America believes this was a deliberate attempt to police its homeland.

After the Aleutian Islands, the balloon – the size of three school buses – passed over western Canada and re-entered US airspace over northern Idaho and Montana.

Lying between their teeth, Beijing called it a “civilian airship” used for research, mostly of a weather type, that deviated far from its intended course.

Clearly this was not the case.

Senior US officials admit it was handy, filled with solar panels to power a camera.

This balloon, they say, was designed for espionage and Beijing was “trying to fly this balloon over sensitive sites”.

The state of Montana is home to one of the United States’ three intercontinental ballistic missile silos.

Sometimes two plus two actually equals four.

What to do?

The US high command mobilized F-22 planes to take it out, but Joe Biden, giving in to his military advisers, decided not to shoot the balloon down – apparently because of the risk to people on the ground.

For its part, Beijing has publicly regretted – a regret is not an excuse – “the involuntary entry of the airship into American airspace due to a case of force majeure” – weasel speaks of uncontrolled forces.

It was too much for Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State, who canceled the Biden administration’s long-sought trip to China, on the grounds that Beijing was not only violating US sovereignty but also international law.

It was a smart move, as the issue was quickly becoming a political hot potato.

“This balloon,” said House Foreign Affairs Speaker Mike McCaul, “should never have been allowed to enter American airspace. It now poses a direct and continuing threat to the national security of the United States. American homeland.”

Caught between a rock and a hard place, President Biden was forced to act.

Unable to explain the meanderings of the Chinese spy balloon across the United States for seven days, Biden finally ordered his army to shoot it down.

China’s response

China, keeping its options open, said the United States had gone too far, calling the destruction of the “civilian” plane “excessive” and reserving “the right to take further action”.

My guess is that Beijing now has what it believes to be the perfect jurisdictional pretext to shoot down a US plane in disputed Chinese airspace above its claims in the South China Sea.

In the same way that an American U-2 spy plane was shot down while spying on the Soviet Union in May 1960, derailing a major summit meeting between President Dwight Eisenhower and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev that had been planned later that month, the downing of the Chinese spy balloon hampered an important summit between the US Secretary of State and Chinese leaders, which was to reinvigorate Sino-US relations.

Who and why this happened will be much debated in the event of a war with China.

Sometimes, however, the answer is in plain sight.

The answer could simply be, in the words of Rebeccah Heinrichs, “The ball is a Chinese middle finger for the United States”, as Xi mocks “President Biden’s efforts to smooth relations”.

It may be as simple as that.

Professor Joseph Siracusa is Professor of Political History and International Diplomacy at Curtin University.




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