By The Financial District
China Can't Wriggle Out Of Downed Spy Balloon Mess
After a US fighter jet shot down the Chinese balloon that had floated across the United States, the reaction from Beijing — defensive, angered, yet hedging its options — illustrated the challenges facing Xi Jinping as he tries to stabilize relations while giving little, if any, ground, Chris Buckley reported for The New York Times.
Photo Insert: US President Joe Biden sent warplanes to destroy China's spy balloon.
Hours after the balloon was struck by a Sidewinder missile and crumpled into the waters off South Carolina, the Chinese Foreign Ministry declared its “strong discontent and protest” and doubled down on its position that the balloon was a civilian research airship blown way off course by fierce winds.
Washington, not Beijing, had broken the rules, the ministry said. However, it withdrew to deathly silence when asked what the China balloon was doing over US airspace and clearly violated US sovereignty.
Chinese officials had been preparing to host US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for talks this week in Beijing but Blinken scrapped the meeting over the spy balloon and US President Joe Biden sent warplanes to destroy it.
“China is in a very tight geopolitical spot,” said Evan S. Medeiros, a professor of international politics at Georgetown University who served as President Barack Obama’s top adviser on Asia-Pacific affairs.
“They were caught red-handed with no place to go. And during a moment when they want to improve relations with many big powers, principally the US.” China’s internet — often an echo chamber for nationalist emotions — resounded with calls for Beijing to stand up to the US over shooting down of the balloon.
And even if Xi and other Chinese Communist Party leaders can brush off public pressure, their own prickly pride may demand some symbolic counter-measure to save face.
Since beginning a third five-year term as party leader in October, Xi has tried to ease tensions with Western countries — including the United States, Australia and European powers — worried that they are coalescing into a firmer alliance committed to containing Chinese power.
“It would be a very poor strategic move on the part of China to really make a big deal out of this,” Oriana Skylar Mastro, a fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, said of the downing of the balloon.
“The more they huff and puff, the more it reduces the credibility of their story that this was a civilian weather balloon blown off course.”
WEEKLY FEATURE : MVP Group Keeps Lights On During Pandemic