Acknowledge Serious Violation of Another Country’s Sovereignty

Flying a balloon into the airspace of another country without permission is an infringement of its sovereignty. If it is done for military purposes, the problem is even more serious. China’s attitude of acting like a victim is far off the mark.

A U.S. fighter jet shot down a Chinese surveillance balloon flying over U.S. territorial waters off the U.S. East Coast. The balloon had been flying for about a week in a manner that it was traversing the U.S. mainland from the west, passing over the western state of Montana, where an intercontinental ballistic missile base is located.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin determined that the balloon was used “in an attempt to surveil strategic sites in the continental United States.” The U.S. Defense Department has indicated that “balloon units” under the command of the Chinese military are operating in various parts of the world.

Three years ago in Japan, a balloon-like object of unknown provenance was widely spotted in the skies over Miyagi Prefecture and elsewhere. Isn’t it necessary for Japan to reinvestigate its movements in and around the country and look into a possible connection with the surveillance balloon spotted in the United States?

It is hoped that the U.S. military will retrieve the debris of the balloon that was shot down as soon as possible, analyze the equipment on board and the information that was collected, and clarify the actual status of Chinese activities.

China’s explanations are all unreasonable. Beijing claims that the balloon was civilian equipment intended for meteorological research and other purposes, and that westerly winds caused it to deviate from its course and enter U.S. airspace.

Essentially, companies involved in aeronautics and space in China are inextricably linked to the government. It is quite unlikely that the authorities are unaware of activities in those fields. If the balloon had entered U.S. airspace by mistake, the Chinese government should have publicly announced the fact at the time of the entry, issued an apology and retrieved the balloon. But it was not until after the U.S. announcement that China acknowledged the airspace violation.

Furthermore, China expressed strong dissatisfaction and protested against the United States over the shooting down of the balloon, and announced that it would not hesitate to take countermeasures if necessary. It must be said that this is a dangerous response that continues to raise tensions by itself.

China had just begun to turn toward dialogue, believing that further deterioration in relations with the United States would not be advantageous for the recovery of its economy, which has been exhausted by the country’s zero-COVID policy. Following the U.S.-China summit in November last year, a visit to China by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had been scheduled.

However, the United States decided to postpone Blinken’s visit amid further deterioration of U.S. public opinion toward China due to the balloon issue.

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has been criticized by the opposition Republican Party and others for failing to detect the balloon’s approach in advance and for not shooting it down at an earlier stage. To avoid coming across as weak, dialogue will likely be difficult for the time being.

The responsibility for raising U.S.-China tensions lies with the administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping, which appears to have adopted a stance of testing the reaction of the United States.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 7, 2023)