Date: 27 February 2023

The Balloon Escalation

On Saturday, February 04, 2023, the U.S. Air Force F-22 stealth jet fighter shot down what the U.S. identified as a Chinese surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina. Similar events involving unidentified Chinese balloons have happened before, but this incident has a symbolic significance. The shot-down balloon becomes the next escalation point in relations between the U. S. and China.

SOURCE: Chase Doak / CC BY SA 4.0

For many, the beginning of Joe Biden’s Presidency brought hope for a new Détente in the relationship between the U. S. and China. The meeting between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping, which took place in Bali, Indonesia (November 14, 2022), was supposed to confirm improved relations between the countries . However, the onset of the Ukrainian war and Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan (2-3 August 2022) again deteriorated the relationship between the U. S. and China. Moreover, the kinetic shootdown of the Chinese balloon could become an irreversible process confirming the divorce between the two powers.
It is worth noticing a directness in the communication of incident by the U. S. administration, which directly draws attention to Chinese interference without diplomatic cover . The position of U. S. administration is best reflected in the Latin maxim vox populi, vox Dei (The voice of the people is the voice of God). Vox populi (The voice of the people) refers here to the U. S. citizens who starts to perceive China as an imminent threat to the U. S. position . Due to circumstances, Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a visit to Beijing scheduled for the beginning of February. Moreover, some believe that Chinese balloon episode coincided with the mass sky paranoia that has recently engaged the American public opinion .
The Chinese balloon incident recently renewed the American public’s interest in China and the Indo-Pacific region. This incident coincides with Russian preparations for an offensive into Ukraine. Furthermore, The American distraction from the war in Ukraine is a natural advantage for Moscow, which is additionally taking advantage of the recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria.
In the coming time, we will see an increase in various incidents, including kinetic ones, coming both out of the Russian and Chinese sites. These upcoming events will be a test for the United States, NATO and signatories of the AUKUS security pact. At this point, the U. S. remains the only Superpower able to have the global influence of power in any corner of the world. The Cold War proved that the U. S. could handle competition in a bipolar world. The upcoming Cold War of the second generation will remain a test for the U. S. and the entire Western world in dealing with crises caused by a new multipolar reality.
This test will be a challenge for Europe, which used to operate under the security umbrella of the United States. Assuming a potential escalation of tension between the U. S. and China raises the question of whether Europe alone will be able to cope with the increasing threat posed by the Russian Federation and Middle Eastern rising fundamentalism.
Szymon Polewka is a student of international relations at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, specializing in the history of international relations, the Eurasian region, DACHL countries, intercultural relations, and the energy sector. He is currently on a scholarship at the University of Bremen. He has gained experience organizing the 2020 Economic Forum in Karpacz and numerous youth and student associations, such as AIESEC or Koło Naukowe Wyzwań Zielonego Ładu
1. Readout of President Joe Biden’s Meeting with President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China, The White House, Nov. 14, 2022.
2. J. Garamone, F-22 Safely Shoots Down Chinese Spy Balloon Off South Carolina Coast, U.S. Department of Defense, Feb. 4, 2023.
3. L. Silver, Some Americans’ views of China turned more negative after 2020, but others became more positive, Pew Research Center.
4. R. Mathieson, Paranoia in the Skies Strains US-China Ties, Bloomberg, Feb. 13, 2023.

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