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Why You Should Care About Chinese Balloons
February 16, 2023
On Jan. 28th, an object entered United States airspace over Alaska, and later entered Canada’s. Then it began to fly over the mainland United States. This object was identified as a Chinese balloon. The U.S. government believes that it was a surveillance balloon, while China says it was just a weather balloon. So which is it? What was it doing in the United States and why was it not shot down until it had crossed the entire country and possibly conducted surveillance on numerous military installations?
The balloon was finally shot down by a fighter jet after President Biden’s command on Feb. 4th at 2:39 PM off the coast of South Carolina. According to CBS News quoting government officials, examination of the wreckage showed “It had collection pod equipment, including high-tech equipment that could collect communications signals and other sensitive information, and solar panels located on the metal truss suspended below the balloon.”
As a result, FCHS senior Ben Blodgett thinks the Chinese government is lying about the balloon. “I think China probably said it was civilian to make us feel bad, but it’s in our airspace. So we can only assume it was used to spy on us,” he said.
While the Chinese government released a statement saying it was just a civilian weather balloon, it’s hard to believe that it is anything more than just a lie to hide its information-gathering function. For example, the U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told CBS News that it flew over ballistic missile fields and a B-2 bomber base.
The United States and China have had a rivalry since 1949 when China became the People’s Republic of China, a communist country. Since then because of competition over territory, the Korean War, trade, and affairs in Taiwan (which is a sovereign country but which China claims to own), China and the United States have had rocky relations. Still, why should we care if a balloon is collecting information?
The answer is both simple and complicated. China is well-known for collecting personal data on people world-wide from social media companies like Tik Tok (of which I am a guilty user) and 23andMe (a DNA testing company). Many debate whether or not these are safe companies for Americans to use since they could give the Chinese government access to Americans’ personal data which could presumably be used to track, influence, or even harm them.
So why should we care if there’s a Chinese surveillance balloon drifting over America when they have all our information anyways? The issue is that a balloon like this is gathering information on our nuclear and military bases which they could use to potentially destroy our country or blackmail us into not responding if and when they invade Taiwan.
FCHS sophomore Tomas Cruz Vega believes that our government was correct to shoot down the balloon. “Yeah, it was a precaution, and maybe a paranoid move to shoot down the balloon. But considering it’s China and our political tensions, we have a good reason to do so. As long as we can recover stuff then it should be fine.”
The after-effects of the Chinese balloon have brought great uncertainty to many Americans, as well as people all over North and Latin America. Since then, more and more suspicious balloons and objects are being noticed and documented. For example a balloon that is suspected to be Chinese passed though Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Colombia, and then entered Venezuela a couple of weeks ago. The general consensus is that these are more than just weather balloons. So what China is doing with all the information? Maybe that’s what makes this a little scarier.
In the last few days, new information has come out that the United States government did not suddenly notice the original balloon after it was “too late” to shoot it down. It appears that they had in fact been tracking the balloon since it launched from Hainan Island off the coast of Southern China a full week or more before it entered American airspace.
So why did they not do anything about it and let it cause a media circus? Why did they not warn the citizens of the United States? Some believe that it had originally headed for Hawaii and Guam, both very important military territories of the U.S. But still, that only makes the question of why we would not shoot it down sooner even more complicated.
As of today, there are reports that President Biden, who has been virtually silent on the matter, will finally address the subject in a statement, so perhaps we will learn more soon. But in the meantime, the citizens of the United States need honesty from our government.