Balloons burst in the end and go unsung. However, the recent hullabaloo over a Chinese spy-balloon is not dying down. To America’s good luck, the surveillance balloon was spotted over Montana, home to the US Malmstrom Air Force Base, off the South Carolina coast. Though it was shot down, the issues it has raised are refusing to die down. Worse, America and China are worried over the trail of distrust the balloon has left behind. The debris will have more stories to tell.

Exploiting a Downed Balloon

The distrust is not hot air. The mutual suspicion threatens to escalate after the unsavoury balloon episode, throwing an already-difficult Sino-American relations off rail. In a foretaste, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called off his China visit, planned for February 5-6, over China’s ‘irresponsible act’. The burst spy-balloon begins proving its potential to precipitate serious political fallouts, both inside and outside America.

The political fallout inside America was among the polarising Republicans. They grabbed the opportunity to hit out at President Joe Biden for failing to act with speed. Though such partisan attacks are not unusual in a politically-divided America, they showed how even downed balloons can be profitably exploited by American politicians. Had Mr Biden acted quickly, with loss of lives, such an action too would have set off a firestorm.

Mr Biden’s Three Faults

Clearly, politicians thrive on divisions. Burst balloons are mere excuses. However, there are larger issues behind the spy-balloon. Foremost among them is its audacious violation of American sovereignty, with serious implications for national security. American politicians deserve condemnation for failing to stand together on this issue. Sad, the burst balloon proves again pernicious partisanship supports their survival.

The Biden administration too needs to accept its faults. One, it failed to tell America a Chinese spy-balloon was under monitoring. Two, when the news of the balloon reached the masses, through press leaks, it did not bring the balloon down immediately. Three, when accused of delaying the burst, it came out with lame excuses like being gripped by the fear of causing casualties, when the spots in question are not thickly populated.

China’s Temporary Success

What makes Mr Biden’s failures grave is the downing of the balloon over the Atlantic Ocean. This means it will not be able to retrieve the balloon’s sensors and spyware. America has thus lost a precious opportunity to prove to rest of the nations the Chinese claim ‘the balloon was a meteorological device’ is pure baloney. Plus, America has denied itself access to info on weapons and intelligence employed in the spy-balloon.

On balance, China should be pleased, despite the bursting of its balloon. Reason: instead of uniting US politicians, the balloon has deepened political divisions in America. For now, China has succeeded in ensuring American focus moves away from China’s expansionist ambitions in Taiwan. Hope this temporary success China is savouring now brings partisan US politicians together under the national umbrella of security concerns.

Global Fears and Threats

American partisanship apart, the Chinese balloon has raised issues of global concern as well. The Chinese expansionist urge is scaring many pacifist nations. Rightly so, the balloon is said to have violated airspaces of nations across five continents. With America’s expanded access to Philippines’ military bases, the balloon issue needs viewing through the prism of potential military tensions and fresh security threats from expansionist China.

The fears and the threats are real. The spy-balloon tells the planet China is testing the waters, and the skies, for launching its next expansionist move. The Dragon is trying to gauge the global mood, America particularly, over violation of airspaces. A less-militaristic trial, like spy-balloons, is a nice way of doing this. To this end, China has succeeded, notwithstanding the downing of the balloon and the narrowness of gains from the hot-air trial.

Dealing with Sovereignty Violations

Viewed through this prism, the spy-balloon is more than trial. America cannot afford to forget China stole the F-35 designs over a decade ago and went on to design its own version of stealth fighters. Plus, it is not a coincidence that China floated the spy-balloon this time over the nuclear silos of Montana. Thus, it became essential for America to retrieve whatever debris was left of the balloon for review and re-engineering.

Alongside, Mr Biden should at once open channels of communication with Chinese president Xi Jinping. America should now focus more on best crisis management practices. As a priority, Mr Biden should look into how best to deal with sovereignty violations by China across the planet. China fears America will become more difficult now. Thus, China will attempt to ensure the balloon issue dies down soon.

China’s Combination Strategy

Despite such proactive attempts, Sinophobia will rise further in America in the near term. Sino-American strife will intensify. American states will attempt to enact legislation to bar Chinese nationals from acquiring land. As American opposition to China’s Taiwan adventures intensifies, Mr Biden should be prepared to see more such balloons. High time Mr Biden and his administration saw the spy-balloon as a timely warning.

Not just this. America should prepare now for a scenario wherein China will use a spying combination of satellites and balloons. China will do this as a strategy: deploy the former for universal surveillance and use the latter for focused surveillance of strategic locations. The burst spy-balloon is an opportunity to understand this Chinese strategy. Thus, the burst spy-balloon should enable America to work out a suitable and effective counter-strategy.

Alert over Suspicious Balloons

However, narrow political pessimists say America over-reacted to the Chinese balloon. Nope, America’s reaction was right, suitable and proper. Consider how this ‘minor balloon incursion’ has alerted the 16 nations which are under territorial threat from China. Already, these threatened nations – Bhutan, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Singapore, South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan, Tibet and Vietnam – are on the alert over suspicious balloons and objects in their airspaces.

Particularly after learning the downed balloon had traversed five continents, before reaching American skies. The concerns are real. This is why America has refused to hand over the balloon remains, despite China wanting them back. America wants to dissect the balloon to understand its intelligence gathering. However, it is high time American politicians desisted from blaming each other for the balloon incident and unified their national responses to a rising threat.

In Conclusion

With such unity, American politicians will be able to send four potent messages to China. First and foremost, China is anti-democratic. Two, its expansionism is unacceptable. Three, it needs to stop being downright confrontational. Four, it needs to respect the rights of smaller nations to exist, their economic ideologies notwithstanding. Viewed through this prism, America was bang on when it downed the sky-balloon. Renewed cold war notwithstanding.