On Saturday the U.S. military shot down a suspecte Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina. After it had travele across much of the U.S., capturing the attention of residents and the media alike.
China said the balloon was a meteorological research vessel blown off course. Expresse “strong dissatisfaction and protest” over its downing.
Now the U.S. military is left to literally pick up the pieces of the wreckage. As diplomats and members of Congress express concern over the incident.
What’s next in the saga of the suspected Chinese spy balloon
U.S. officials are working to investigate the balloon’s wreckage
Top U.S. officials say they were able to learn about the Chinese surveillance balloon by tracking it across the country, and now they’re hoping to learn even more by examining the pieces that remain after a fighter jet shot it out of the sky on Saturday.
In a background briefing on Saturday, two U.S. defense officials said they were working with the FBI and counterintelligence authorities to recover as much debris from the balloon as possible, including whatever equipment was onboard and “any material of intelligence value.”
What’s next in the saga of the suspecte Chinese spy balloon
A senior defense official said the administration has had several days to investigate what the balloon was doing and how — as well as why China might have sent it in the first place.
We don’t know exactly all the benefits that will derive. But we have learne technical things. This balloon and its surveillance capabilities,” the senior defense official said. “And I suspect if we are successful in recovering aspects of the debris, we will learn even more.”
What’s next in the saga of the suspecte Chinese spy balloon Authorities said they may use uncrewe underwater vessels that can lift the structure up to the surface and place it on a salvage ship. Navy divers were also available. The debris splashe down in 47-foot-deep water, making the recovery effort easier than had been originally expecte.
China has denied that the balloon was used for spying and instead said it was conducting weather research.
James Flaten, a University of Minnesota professor who works with NASA to teach students using high-altitude balloons, told NPR that it would be possible for a high-altitude balloon launched from China to reach the U.S., but added that China may not have had much control over its path at such high altitudes.
“I’m not saying they’re telling the truth,” Flaten said, “I’m just saying that’s a plausible story.”
Diplomacy between the U.S. and China is again up in the air
The balloon’s intrusion into U.S. airspace scuttled a planned meeting of high-level officials from the U.S. and China, and it’s unclear if or when the trip will be rescheduled.
On Friday, as the balloon was floating some 60,000 feet above the mainland U.S., Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a trip to China.
“China has an interest in inserting some more stability into the relationship,” Dave Shullman, senior director of the China Global Hub at the Atlantic Council, told NPR’s Weekend Edition.
Shullman said China is hoping to repair its relationship with the U.S. as it struggles with some thorny domestic issues, such as its ongoing efforts to stem the spread of COVID and invigorate its economy.
With that backdrop, it would have strange for China to intentionally sabotage Blinken’s trip. Shullman suggested. “I think they genuinely wanted this visit to go well,” he added.
Blinken said he was still prepare to “visit Beijing as soon as conditions allow. But Shullman note that China’s annual legislative session is schedule for March and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is rumore to be traveling to Taiwan in April. Which could further strain ties between the U.S. and China.
The response from Congress has fallen along party lines
Republicans have criticized the Biden administration for not shooting down the balloon earlier, before it was able to traverse several states and glide over sensitive military installations.
Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio, the Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee. NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday that he believes China was attempting to gather intelligence on U.S. military sites.