Early this year, a Chinese balloon floating over the U.S. was found to be filled with American-made spying equipment. This was revealed by U.S. officials following an investigation.
Various defense and intelligence agencies, including the FBI, analyzed the debris of the balloon after it was shot down by the U.S. military almost five months ago. This incident exacerbated already tense U.S.-China relations.
The investigation revealed that the balloon was filled with commercially available U.S. technology, along with specialized Chinese sensors and equipment for data collection. This information was intended to be sent back to China, suggesting the balloon was used for spying, not weather monitoring as claimed by Beijing.
During its eight-day journey over Alaska, Canada, and several U.S. states, the balloon did not send any collected information back to China. The reason for this is not clear, though some officials have suggested countermeasures were used by the U.S. military to prevent this.
The discovery and destruction of the balloon strained relations between the U.S. and China further, though recent efforts have been made by both countries to move past the incident. President Biden referred to it as an embarrassment for the Chinese leadership, and insisted the matter should be closed provided it doesn’t happen again.
However, concerns exist that if the report on the balloon becomes public, it could provoke a strong reaction from Beijing and hamper high-level engagement. Several officials from both countries are expected to visit Beijing in the coming months.
The U.S. military wanted to display parts of the balloon’s debris, similar to what was done with Iranian weapons in 2017. However, the administration has decided against sharing its findings on the balloon publicly.
Congress members are pressuring the administration for details on the balloon’s capabilities and its reason for allowing the craft to fly over sensitive military bases. They criticize the administration’s delay in releasing the report to avoid straining U.S.-China relations.
Investigations into the debris from the balloon, which was shot down near South Carolina, are ongoing. Preliminary findings have been shared within intelligence and defense agencies to update them on the balloon’s capabilities.
Further analysis of the debris provided insights into how the balloon functioned, how it was controlled, and how it was supposed to transmit data. Investigators also traced purchase orders for some of the equipment back to the Chinese government.
China’s balloon is thought to be part of a global surveillance program, with similar balloons detected over Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Despite these findings, China maintains that the balloon was a civilian craft that strayed off course.
In conclusion, the investigation indicates that the balloon was intended for surveillance. However, some officials believe it likely strayed from its original path. President Biden supports this theory, suggesting that the balloon’s course and eventual shootdown embarrassed Chinese leader Xi Jinping.