China Caught Spying On The United States With Giant Balloon, Here’s Why

A giant spy balloon from China was spotted over Montana. China says it's a weather balloon that had been blown off course, but US officials believe its placement could be intentional due to it hovering over the Malmstrom Air Force Base.

By Tori Hook | Published

spy balloon china

Earlier this week, a suspected Chinese spy balloon was spotted in the skies above the western U.S. Despite defense officials’ confidence that the balloon is a Chinese surveillance tool, Chinese Foreign Ministry officials stated that the balloon is a non-military airship, used for meteorological research, that had been blown off course. According to AP News, though, the U.S. government is taking the balloon very seriously and questions the validity of China’s explanation.

Part of U.S. officials’ suspicion has to do with the balloon’s whereabouts over Montana, one of the places the balloon has been spotted is home to Malmstrom Air Force Base, which houses one of the country’s three nuclear missile silo fields. And though the Montana location is sparsely populated, it’s especially far-off base from where the Chinese insist the balloon was conducting research.

President Joe Biden was briefed and met with defense officials to assess the situation and establish the next steps. Though the spy balloon poses no significant threat to civilian or military communities, the U.S. has prepared fighter jets to take it down if the situation warrants such action. However, shooting the balloon down would be a last resort, as the debris could possibly cause damage or harm to those on the ground.

According to defense officials, the Chinese balloon has “limited” surveillance abilities, as there are very few types of information to be obtained by balloons rather than by satellite. This is not the first instance of Chinese spy balloons being spotted over the U.S. in the last few years, and the current iteration only goes to show how fraught relations between the U.S. and China have become.

This spy balloon incident also comes just before U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was to travel to Beijing for the first time. The weekend trip would see Blinken—so far, the highest-ranking member of Biden’s administration to visit China—on a diplomatic visit to ease tensions between the two governments. The U.S. has clashed with China over its escalating aggression towards Taiwan, as well as a general concern over China’s influence on American culture and government.

It’s unclear whether Blinken’s trip will be affected by the spy balloon, but the incident only adds to the already high concerns over U.S. security. Recent behavior by the Chinese includes large purchases of American farmland as well as the increasing ubiquity of the Chinese-owned app TikTok, which many state officials believe poses a significant risk to national security. The Chinese spy balloon is just one small part of a much larger conflict.

Long a protector of democracy, the U.S. also shows concern over China’s implicit support of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which hints at China’s own attitude toward Taiwan and other states in the South China Sea. Classic American ideology says that a threat to democracy anywhere is a threat to democracy here. And while a Chinese spy balloon may seem like a small infraction, it’s the beliefs behind it that may pose the biggest threat in the end.