For a few days last week, Americans focused their attention on the sky as a Chinese spy balloon floated across most parts of the continental U.S. The Biden administration waited until last Saturday to finally shoot the balloon down. The whole incident and the responses from both Beijing and Washington exposed serious policy miscalculations on both sides.
Most people want to know why the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) sent a spy balloon to the U.S. a week before the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to Beijing. There are several probable explanations. One is that CCP might want to use relatively low-cost and low-tech equipment to test the U.S. air defense system. As The Wall Street Journal reported, the Chinese spy balloon likely had no “radar or other electronic emissions that would have given away [its] presence,” which initially made the balloon challenging to detect.
The CCP probably hoped to gather crucial intelligence, such as how long it would take the U.S. military to notice the balloon and initiate a response, and what type of response it would be. The CCP almost certainly expected the U.S. military to take down the spy balloon eventually. But Xi and his comrades might not be too concerned about losing the balloon because it wasn’t an advanced surveillance tool, so it wouldn’t reveal much of China’s surveillance technology capability.
Another plausible explanation is that Beijing attempted to put the Biden administration in a psychologically uncomfortable place before Secretary Blinken’s trip. The CCP believes the United States is inevitably declining, especially under President Joe Biden. When the Biden administration held its first high-level meeting with communist China in Anchorage, Alaska, in March 2021, Yang Jiechi, the head of the Chinese delegation, broke a diplomatic norm by lashing out at his U.S. counterpart for more than 15 minutes in front a worldwide audience. The CCP likes to open negotiations with a psychological advantage by intimidating its opponent.
Therefore, the CCP might have believed it could release a spy balloon into the U.S. to test the Biden administration’s resolve and gain some psychological upper hand before Blinken’s trip. Undoubtedly, the CCP sought to exploit any weaknesses in the Biden administration’s response and apply them to its talks with Blinken.
Regardless of the CCP’s motives, it neglected to factor in the American public’s reaction to its foreign policy calculation. Since there is no free election in China, Xi and his comrades never have to be concerned about answering to voters. Without a free press in China, the CCP can easily hide its mistakes under the rug and keep the public in the dark.
But America is different. Americans do not like to feel unsafe in their own backyards. Regardless of political ideology, the majority of voters see that one of the government’s essential functions is protecting its citizens against hostile foreign forces. The sight of a Chinese spy balloon floating uninterruptedly in America’s sky for days unnerved many Americans last week. Unlike the CCP, American politicians have to answer to voters.
The CCP’s hope of putting the Biden administration in a weakened position before a negotiation backfired. The call for action was so loud in the U.S. that the Biden administration was forced to shoot down the spy balloon and postponed Blinken’s visit. Xi’s miscalculated foreign policy gambit became a blunder, and prolonged tension between the U.S. and China will be bad news for China’s weakened economy.
The CCP’s latest miscalculation is its Foreign Ministry claim that the balloon was a civilian weather balloon knocked off the course, and that America’s action was a “serious violation of international practice.” Beijing vowed to reserve the right to take further actions. The CCP’s preposterous statement after being caught red-handed will only anger the American people further and increase public pressure on the Biden administration and Congress to come up with policies to address the CCP’s security threat to America and its allies.
The spy balloon incident also exposed the Biden administration’s policy miscalculations. The Biden administration reportedly had kept its knowledge of a Chinese spy balloon in America’s airspace from the public for days, hoping not to disrupt Blinken’s trip to Beijing. Now we learn that China had sent a similar spy balloon to the U.S. before and apparently, the Biden administration didn’t bother to develop a plan to address China’s blatant violation of U.S. sovereignty.
The Biden administration probably was counting on America’s left-leaning corporate press to downplay or ignore the Chinese spy balloon story, just like how they refused to cover Hunter Biden’s laptop. But this time, the American media didn’t let Biden off the hook so easily. The national press gave the spy balloon wall-to-wall coverage and kept the story front and center till the Biden administration shot the balloon down and canceled Blinken’s trip to Beijing.
Wishing the American public not to look up to the sky and a friendly media not to report about the balloon was a miscalculation. Not bringing the balloon down as soon as it entered U.S. airspace was a miscalculation. Waiting for days to take action was a miscalculation because Chinese intelligence could have already received tons of data collected by the balloon.
The most severe policy miscalculation the Biden administration has committed is its belief that climate change is the biggest threat to humanity and that it needs the CCP’s cooperation to save the planet. Yet, China remains the world’s worst polluter even after it signed the Paris Climate Accords.
The CCP sees the Biden administration’s blind faith in climate change as a weakness that Beijing can exploit. For example, pushing for the broader adoption of solar panels is essential to Democrats’ “Green New Deal.” But China dominates the global solar industry. It “control[s] an estimated 80% of the global supply chain for solar manufacturing and produce[s] nearly half of all the equipment needed to manufacture solar panels and their components,” according to The Wall Street Journal. The Biden administration’s push for solar energy has increased American dependence on China and endangered the U.S. economy and national security.
When the CCP sees a weakness in its opponent, it will waste no time exploiting it. Recently, China announced its plan to restrict exports of key solar manufacturing technology, perhaps hoping its plan will cause so much disruption of the Biden administration’s green agenda that the U.S. may relax its controls on semiconductor technology exports to China.
The Chinese spy balloon has exposed serious policy miscalculations in both the U.S. and China. The two nations are engaging in the great power competition of the 21st century. If the U.S. doesn’t learn from policy mistakes and make proper adjustments quickly, it may not come out as the winner.