China Global

Chinese Surveillance Balloon

Episode Summary

On January 28 , just days before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to travel to Beijing, a high-altitude Chinese surveillance balloon carrying a payload the size of three buses entered the US Air Defense Identification Zone north of the Aleutian Islands. It drifted eastward, over Alaska and Canada, before reaching the continental United States. Officials in Washington claim that the balloon’s entry into US airspace, not to mention its loitering over sensitive military installations in Montana, violated American sovereignty and international law. US President Joe Biden, advised that the balloon posed no immediate threat and that shooting it down over land risked harm to civilians and property, ordered the military to end the balloon’s meanderings once it reached the Atlantic Ocean. Blinken’s trip was postponed. The Chinese expressed regret about the intrusion, maintaining that the vessel was a weather balloon that had gone off course. Beijing also condemned the decision to shoot it down, saying the act was a “clear overreaction and a serious violation of international practice”. The Chinese indicated that they reserved the right to respond. To discuss China’s intelligence operations and the implications of the surveillance balloon for US-China relations, host Bonnie Glaser speaks with retired Senior Intelligence Officer John Culver. He worked at the Central Intelligence Agency for 35 years analyzing East Asian affairs, including those related to China and the People’s Liberation Army. From 2015 to 2018, he was the National Intelligence Council’s national intelligence officer for East Asia.

Episode Notes

[00:00] Topic and Guest Introduction

[02:31] Information Collection Capabilities

[07:25] Chinese Motivations

[10:40] Reaction to Shot Down Balloon

[13:59] Mil-Mil Dialogue

[16:59] Leverage Over China

[19:15] Guidance from Past Incidents

[22:08] Risk Reduction Measures

[24:47] Balloon Incident and Xi Jinping

[27:32] Wartime Use of Balloons