An Analysis of United States Relations With China and the Recent Balloon Incident

America relations with China have been strained as of late. What will the recent balloon incident mean for the future of relations between the American and Chinese governments?


U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tyler Thompson, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Here, The Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recovers the Chinese government’s surveillance balloon parts, off of the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on February 5th, 2023.


The Chinese balloon fizzles out, leaving residue on the ocean floor.

It wasn’t the first time China has sent balloons out to America. In fact, this has already happened at least five times in recent years, three times during the Trump administration, and two times during Biden’s. However, U.S. officials had not noticed these incursions until now, only piecing together the information long after these events had occurred. U.S. military and intelligence agencies believe that there’s a chance there were a lot more spy balloons from China that were not discovered yet. Other than the oversight of U.S. officials and the intelligence community, the fact that this incident lasted for a week instead of a brief time, unlike other Chinese balloon incursions, opened America’s eyes. America National Security agents spent a week to surveil the balloon, in the hopes of identifying China’s motive as well as the balloon’s capabilities. 

A U.S. fighter jet, F-22 Raptor takes off from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia on February 4th, 2023; it brought down the surveillance balloon. Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Chloe Shanes, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The balloon was shot down by an American fighter jet, an F-22 Raptor fighter, above the Atlantic Ocean and just off the coast of South Carolina in order to minimize the risk caused by falling  debris. The Chinese government was outraged by this act, claiming that America had a clear overreaction to this whole incident. Yet, the evidence that the U.S. government has collected from the balloon debris claims otherwise. “Why did China think they were going to get away with it? We know that the balloon was capable of being moved from place to place by some control mechanism inside it, and that it had spy recording equipment on board. That has led the U.S. to take further action, yet China still adamantly denies it, despite the balloon being clearly from China,” said Camille Chen ’23.

What was the Chinese government doing? Many speculate that the Chinese government was using these balloons to spy on America. The balloon contained surveillance intelligence and the ability to geolocate, disproving China’s claims that the balloon that was shot down was merely a civilian aircraft as well as previous claims that it was a weather balloon that had gone off course. Yet, China’s motives are unclear. According to U.S. officials, China has been sending balloons to survey other countries as well. In addition to that, China’s spy balloon was detectable and uncamouflaged. So it raises the question, why would China not even try to hide their surveillance of America? What is China’s end goal? 

All we know for now is that the Chinese government has been surveilling America along with other countries including Japan, Taiwan, India, and more. Due to this, America’s security has been trying its best to not give China excess information. After collecting the balloon debris, American agents jammed the balloon’s communications in the hopes that the information it had gathered would not travel back to China, while also increasing security near more information-sensitive places like military bases. 

The incident caused uproar among American citizens and politicians alike, with some Republicans, including ex-President Donald Trump and Mississippi Republican Senator Roger Wicker blaming Biden for his ‘slow indecision’ and not acting sooner to have the balloon shot down. However, most democrats defended Biden, citing that Biden’s approach was safer and minimized  chaos.

This incident has greatly impacted U.S. and China relations, leading the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken to cancel a trip to China. He had planned to meet senior leaders in Beijing in hopes of reducing friction between the two countries.

On Chinese apps like Weibo, many Chinese citizens mocked the American public for what they felt was a severe overreaction to the situation. Users made jokes about the balloon, punning it as the ‘wandering balloon’ and joking that U.S. defenses can’t even defend themselves properly against a mere balloon. 

Other than this balloon incident, there are deeper problems underneath the relationship between America and China. The latter has been incredibly lenient with Russia in the ongoing war in Ukraine. Despite Wang, China’s top diplomat saying, “We do not sit idly by. We do not add fuel to the fire. We stand on the side of peace and dialogue,” there are no sanctions imposed on Russia by China at all, and this has helped Vladimir Putin a lot, providing him with resources like weapons to harm Ukrainians.

Here is America’s official flag. Photo Credit: Marcus iStrfry / Unsplash
Here is China’s official flag. Photo Credit: Vesakaran Aboodi / Unsplash

Khado Tsephel ’23 , “Due to this incident, Americans have started to dislike the Chinese government’s policies more, especially considering other factors like their Russian support, along with the overall tension in the Black Sea where their fighter jets were inches away from crashing into a U.S. fighter jet. If China were to provide Russia with artillery, it would mean that both of the world’s major powers in nuclear arms will be at odds.” China is trying to play both sides, attempting to show that they care about Ukrainians while also having increased partnerships with Russia. 

China and Russia have maintained a close relationship for a long time. Both Xi and Putin believed that their relationship would aid them in diplomacy in their own countries, along with having good trade relations and being each other’s greatest trading partners for thirteen years. They have also aided each other during troubling times such as during the COVID-19 pandemic, and they have agreed to cooperate on a range of economic and business areas. Normally, this would be fine, with two major countries supporting each other to further their own goals. However, this relationship doesn’t align with U.S. interests, and may result in the U.S. facing two nuclear powers in the future. It has become a problem of late, especially since the U.S. is on the side of Ukraine and trying its best to aid Ukraine against Russia. Recently, it was unveiled that these two countries have made a pact against the West, forming an alliance and collaborating on many aspects including climate change, space, and technology. Both parties are using each other to gain more power, while also fulfilling their ambitions of obtaining Ukraine and Taiwan respectively. 

As tensions between the U.S. and China increase, it’s difficult to not be concerned about the future of conflict between the two nations. Similar incidents that happened before were during times when U.S. policy was lenient on China, since they wanted China as a competitor, but never as an enemy. This allowed past incidents, such as the Tibetan Uprising (1959), along with the Tiananmen Square Massacre (1989), and the Kosovo War (1999) to be swept under the rug. During all these incidents, both sides filled with unease took different sides and called for something to be done. Yet, both countries aimed for peace and defused these situations. 

This has changed during the last few decades under president Xi Jinping’s leadership. Xi has been increasingly nationalists and China’s ambitions grew, along with America and China’s differences. Beijing’s aims of keeping order in its one-party political system while controlling its citizens collide with America’s hopes of promoting a democratic society and hoping that everyone gets heard. 

Then there were the recent problems, with Trump trying to make peace with China by creating a trade deal with Xi before turning on them due to the COVID-19 pandemic a few years back. There was hope that the Blinken trip would have calmed the strained relationship between both countries, but the trip was promptly canceled. 

“America’s relationship with China is complex,” said Jason Lin ’23.  “In 2021, China was one of America’s largest trade partners. Throughout the years, China has shipped numerous goods America such as clothing, toys, and sometimes even food. America and China are dependent on each other for their resources. Then the Chinese spy balloon incident happened.” It’s hard to say what the future will hold for these two countries. 

“America’s relationship with China is complex,” said Jason Lin ’23.  “In 2021, China was one of America’s largest trade partners. Throughout the years, China has shipped numerous goods America such as clothing, toys, and sometimes even food. America and China are dependent on each other for their resources. Then the Chinese spy balloon incident happened.” It’s hard to say what the future will hold for these two countries.