The China Report - February 6, 2023 #3
This weekend I expected to be writing about the results of Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s trip to China and prospects for the reopening of China’s post-Covid economy. Instead, Americans have been mesmerized by the week-long journey of a Chinese balloon, and I have been bombarded with questions about what it means. A symbol of both China’s rise and presence in the US, a white balloon galvanized the media in a way that a diplomatic visit would never have equaled.
The Biden Administration held no press conferences on the subject and had evidently been trying to keep the entire saga on the “down low” for days in order to prevent cancellation of Blinken’s trip, in my opinion a worthy goal. Absent local media in Montana, it is highly possible we would never have known about the balloon, and indeed it seems that this type of incursion has happened before and in other countries without any defensive action in response.
I believe Chinese statements about the incident have been widely misinterpreted. This morning’s Financial Times carries the front page headline “Beijing slams US for downing balloon in further strain on frayed relations”. If you read the Chinese statement, that simply does not track as I explain in detail below.
My reading is that the Chinese reaction was as measured as could have been mustered. This was not an episode either side could have desired. I also don’t buy the theory that the Chinese military floated a balloon across the US in order to prevent Blinken’s trip. In fact, the non-escalatory way this was handled is proof of decent communications between both governments at high levels. They avoided being swept along by the Westerlies of public opinion.