Chinese 'spy balloon' meant to test US counter surveillance, says analyst
Feb 05, 2023
Washington [US], February 5 : Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon, that was shot down by a US fighter jet off South Carolina Coast was meant to test America's counter-surveillance capabilities, experts familiar with the situation suggest, reported Nikkei Asia.
US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin in a statement on Saturday (local time) said that the US fighter aircraft successfully shot down the high-altitude surveillance balloon over the water off the coast of South Carolina in the US airspace. The balloon was first spotted in the sky over Montana earlier this week, travelling across the middle of the United States.
Ryo Nakamura, writing in Nikkei Asia said that it was intended to observe military sites or test America's own surveillance capabilities.
"Most likely, China sent the balloon to test US counter-surveillance capabilities," said, Lyle Morris, a senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute's Center for China Analysis. He was previously the country director for China in the Office of the US Secretary of Defence.
"Since it likely doesn't have any official markings, Beijing likely thought it could play the 'plausible deniability' card, " he added.
Meanwhile, Inconvenient Truths by Jennifer Zeng revealed that the Chinese spy balloon was developed by a state-owned company.
"More evidence of the producer of #ChineseSpyBalloon Recruitment notice of #ChinaZhuzhouRubberResearchDesignInstitute says it is a state-owned company, it develops & produces military products, it's a designated research & production enterprise," tweeted Inconvenient Truths by Jennifer Zeng.
The producer of the Chinese spy balloons, China Zhuzhou Rubber Research & Design Institute Co Ltd, is a government-owned military research institute with weapon production licenses.
Its military supporting products were used in the "Shenzhou V" manned spacecraft, and have won the PLA General Armament Department commendation. It is a designated research institution for the weather balloons of all military branches of the People's Liberation Army (PLA).
However, Patrick Cronin, Asia-Pacific security chair at the Hudson Institute, took a different view, reported Nikkei Asia.
"Using a balloon that was certain to be spotted suggests a high degree of brazenness. Beijing's satellites constantly watch US ICBM fields and other strategic bases, so a balloon seems superfluous," he said.
"I assume Beijing wanted to make a psychological ploy to grab America's attention to send a message as Secretary of State Blinken meets with Xi Jinping: The US should back off its support for Taiwan and forward defence engagement in Asia before tensions get out of hand," he said before Blinken's trip being postponed.
Instances of similar balloon activity have been observed over the past several years, according to the senior official at Thursday's briefing, but these past incidents were not disclosed to the public, reported Ryo.
The difference "has to do with the time that it is taking for the balloon to leave US airspace," said a source briefed by Washington on the situation. "But I'm very surprised that this wasn't disclosed previously."
Morris suggested that Washington might have gone public this time after expressing its concerns to China in private and failed to change Beijing's behavior.
The Pentagon said the balloon cannot provide China with intelligence beyond what could already be collected through spy satellites, reported Nikkei Asia.
The balloon incident adds to tensions between the US and China.
China has expressed strong dissatisfaction and protest against the United States' use of force to shoot down its balloon, which it called a civilian airship, Global Times reported.
Rep Mike Gallagher, the Republican chairman of the newly created House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, released a joint statement Thursday with Democratic ranking member Raja Krishnamoorthi condemning the suspected spy balloon.
"Not only is this a violation of American sovereignty... but it also makes clear that the CCP's recent diplomatic overtures do not represent a substantive change in policy," the text reads.
Drew Thompson, visiting senior research fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, says it is possible that China's People Liberation Army flew the balloon without coordinating with the Communist Party leadership.
"It is also possible that the PLA is trying to torpedo Xi's effort to improve China's relations with the US and its like-minded partners including Japan and Australia," added Thompson.
The Biden administration has maintained pressure on China ahead of Blinken's potential visit with new efforts to contain Chinese military and economic power.