Navy divers work to recover Chinese spy balloon debris as diplomacy wanes


The Chinese government denounced the US decision to lower the balloon, calling it “an overreaction that seriously violates international convention”.

The downing of the spy balloon capped off a remarkable week of high-stakes international drama. Randall Hill/Reuters

WASHINGTON — Navy divers were searching for debris from the Chinese spy balloon that a U.S. fighter jet shot down off South Carolina, defense officials said Sunday, as fallout from the dramatic confrontation between the two great world powers showed no sign of appeasement. .

The recovery effort, which is expected to take days, began shortly after the balloon debris hit the water on Saturday, a defense official said. He said a navy vessel had arrived on the scene, and other navy and coast guard vessels, which had been put on alert, had also been dispatched.

The downing of the balloon, which came at the end of a remarkable week of high-stakes international drama unfolding in the open and behind closed doors, ushered in a new phase in the increasingly tumultuous relationship between the United States and China, as each vies to be the preeminent global power in economics, military and technology – with intelligence gathering playing a vital role in their competition.

That a confrontation around a single surveillance balloon deemed harmless by the Pentagon could destabilize diplomacy between the two countries has shown the difficulties in putting “safeguards on the relationship”, an objective stated in these terms by the president Joe Biden and his aides.

The Chinese government denounced the US decision to lower the balloon, calling it “an overreaction that seriously violates international convention”. The Foreign Ministry said China “reserves the right to respond further”, and the National Defense Ministry said it would “use necessary means to deal with similar circumstances”.

US officials said they were watching China carefully for any reaction beyond words, including potential strikes on US assets. State Department and White House National Security Council officials spoke with Chinese officials about the balloon drop soon after it happened, a senior Biden administration official said. The Department of State has also briefed officials of allied and partner nations.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will likely have to balance between assuaging popular nationalist sentiments and addressing practical diplomatic concerns in the next steps. Some Chinese citizens online called on Beijing to stand up to the United States over the falling ball. And for years, Xi has cast himself as the guardian of the Communist Party’s original goals of consolidating power in China and projecting it outside — which includes confrontation in the United States where the goals of the two nations clash. clash.

Although China has insisted the electronics-laden machine was just a derailed weather balloon, Biden administration officials have firmly asserted that its goal was a somewhat ill-fated effort by Beijing to spy on US military installations.

The balloon began drifting toward US territory on January 28, when it entered Alaskan airspace near the Aleutian Islands. Pentagon officials said they took steps — without giving details — to ensure the balloon didn’t produce much fruit as it hovered near Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana and other facilities.

They also said China could glean the same amount of intelligence from a spy satellite.

A U.S. official said on Sunday there are ways intelligence officials can feed false information to the balloon, which would largely render the information gathered worthless. He declined to say whether it was done in this case.

Nonetheless, the incident escalated into a full-fledged diplomatic spat between the two powers, with Biden administration officials chastising their Chinese counterparts and Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceling what was supposed to be the first trip to China. of a Biden cabinet secretary.

Blinken said he told Wang Yi, a senior Chinese Communist Party foreign policy official, that China had violated US sovereignty with the balloon and that he would travel to Beijing “when conditions permit.” Blinken was to meet Xi and discuss a series of issues.

Officials in Washington and Beijing had seen the trip as part of a renewed effort to establish high-level dialogue during a time of heightened tensions. Before the visit was cancelled, Jessica Chen Weiss, a political scientist at Cornell University, said that “a good outcome would be an agreement to continue talking, broadening the openness of discussions and continuing to rebuild the communication channels that have been stalled by the pandemic and previous decisions on both sides to stop talking.

Pentagon officials have made it clear that they plan to collect whatever debris Navy divers can recover, for US intelligence purposes. Once the debris is recovered, the Pentagon is expected to turn it over for investigation by various federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

For days before the balloon was shot down, US officials debated different ways to bring it to Earth, including using a net or a giant hook. A senior administration official said Sunday that ultimately U.S. officials concluded the balloon was so big that firing a missile was the only viable option.

General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin both expressed the military view that trying to lasso a balloon at 60,000 feet was not a good idea .

NASA scientists provided officials with an analysis of the expected debris field, the administration official said.

Because the balloon was shot down in relatively shallow water, Pentagon officials believe the recovery effort will not be difficult. A Navy salvage vessel was en route, the official said, and would help divers recover balloon components in about 50 feet of water.
At this depth, divers can spend approximately 1.5 hours on the bottom and can use civilian-type scuba gear instead of needing specialized deep-sea gear. Besides time considerations, the only limitations to their working capacity will be the temperature of the water, the underwater currents and the amount of air in their tanks.

Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have questioned how the ball was allowed to pass over the United States, with Republicans accusing Biden of failing to act sooner.

“We should have shot that balloon down over the Aleutians instead of letting it float across Central America on its merry way,” said Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who serves on the intelligence committee, on Fox News Sunday.

“The idea that we were going to let this all go across America, a spy balloon doing its spy mission, before we shot it down, I’m afraid that would be an embarrassment to the United States, not an embarrassment to the Chinese.”

A senior defense official said on Saturday that Chinese balloons had entered US territory three times under the Trump administration and once before under the Biden administration. Those incursions, the official said, were brief.

Former President Donald Trump, however, has denied missing three balls during his tenure. “China had too much respect for ‘TRUMP’ for this to happen, and it NEVER happened,” Trump wrote in a post on his Truth Social. He called the Pentagon’s claim “JUST FALSE DISINFORMATION.”

Several senior Trump administration national security officials have questioned why they’ve never heard of the spy balloon encroachments.

On Sunday, the Pentagon held firm. Chinese government surveillance balloons briefly crossed the continental United States at least three times during the Trump administration and once during the early Biden administration, but never for that long, a senior defense official has said. in an emailed statement.

Information about the three balloon transits during the Trump years was uncovered after that administration left, a senior Biden administration official said Sunday night. Intelligence officials can offer briefings on China’s balloon surveillance program to “key officials” in the Trump administration, the person said. The balloons have appeared on five continents, including East Asia, South Asia, and Europe, among others.

Sen. Cory Booker, D.N.J., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, praised the military operation to bring the balloon down. He described it as “a decision focused on protecting human life”, but warned that the incident should not have happened at all.

“We shouldn’t have had that kind of foray into the United States,” Booker said on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” adding that “obviously we have issues here.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.
Back to top button