A car-sized, white “sky balloon” was spotted around sixty-thousand feet above Alaska. A week later, the balloon was shot down by a U.S. fighter jet off the coast of South Carolina. A day after the balloon was shot down, U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell made an official statement in response. Senate.gov reports McConnell stated, “China’s military modernization effort is no joke.” Since January 28th, the date of the first spotting, three more objects have been detected around North America. These recent events have heightened existing international tension between Canada, China, and the U.S.
Between February 10th and 12th, three more unidentified objects were detected flying around North America. One of these objects was shot down by the U.S. military in Canadian airspace. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin stated that “In Lake Huron, US Northern Command and the US Coast Guard and the FBI are beginning operations to locate debris, in close partnership with the Canadians.” Despite working together, there is controversy surrounding the Canadian government’s lack of initiative. The National Post reported an article titled “FIRST READING: Yes, Canada could have shot down the Chinese spy balloon” the same day the balloon was shot down. Author of the article, Trisin Hopper, says “…not only did defense officials refuse to destroy the balloon – but they didn’t even bother telling Canadians it was there.” Issues arise regarding the decision-making process of the Canadian government, legitimacy of the Canadian military, and relations between Canada and China moving forward.
On the U.S. end, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby does not believe the three objects related to Chinese spying. On February 16th, President Biden asserted “Nothing right now suggests they were related to China’s spy balloon program or that they were surveillance vehicles from any other country.” The U.S. military has improved radar capabilities since the incidents.
Chinese Community Party foreign policy official Wang Yi claimed that the balloon was shot down by the U.S. to “divert attention from its domestic problems.” The Chinese government has explained that the balloon was not a “spy balloon” while pointing out that the U.S. has flown balloons over Chinese airspace “on many occasions.” Tensions between the U.S. and the PRC have been heightened in the past month. The New York Times reports that U.S. Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken canceled his trip to China “without rescheduling it.” Relations between the U.S. and China have a complicated history that has only worsened in the midst of these events. Questions relating to cybersecurity have emerged, particularly in reference to Tik Tok. The Chinese social media platform has copious amounts of data from its users; some have questioned if it is a means of spying on the U.S.
With today’s high levels of social media usage, big data has become a powerful tool and weapon. If the Chinese government were using Tik Tok data to “spy” on foreign countries, it would be interesting to discover the specific trends being analyzed and why. Regarding spying strategies, a white balloon the size of around three school buses is not particularly subtle. With the technology accessible today, it seems unlikely that any government would choose such an overt object for spyware. If citizens fear cyber spying, not using platforms that raise concerns would be the first step anyone could take.