A few days ago, General Mike Minihan, leader of the U.S. Air Mobility Command, warned of a possible armed conflict between the United States and China in 2025. These words caused some alarmist reactions. In connection with the unrelenting tension between Washington and Beijing, the Pentagon detected a surveillance balloon over U.S. territory, though its origin was not officially specified. Brigadier General Pat Ryder, spokesman for the Department of Defense (DoD), said:
The United States Government has detected and is tracking a high altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now. The U.S. government, to include NORAD, continues to track and monitor it closely. The balloon is currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground. Instances of this kind of balloon activity have been observed previously over the past several years. Once the balloon was detected, the U.S. government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information.
This morning, a senior Defense official clarified that the Biden Administration is certain that the communist regime in Beijing is the owner of the drone. China confirmed that the drone is their property and said that it is a meteorological research satellite that suffered a malfunction and deviated from its route.
The Army did not shoot it down
The Pentagon's response was to deploy several fighters. General Ryder said that although shooting down the spy drone was considered, it was not done because of potential risks:
You did see reports yesterday of a ground stop at Billings airport, and the mobilization of a number of assets including F 22s ... in the event that a decision was made to bring this down while it was over Montana. So we wanted to make sure we were coordinating with civil authorities to empty out the airspace around that potential area. ... It was the judgment of our military commanders that we didn't drive the risk down low enough that we didn't take the shot.
What is known is where the surveillance balloon was flying: in Montana. Knowing that nuclear weapons were being stored in the Treasure State, Republican Sen. Steve Daines sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin demanding a report due to the seriousness of the matter:
It is vital to establish the flight path of this balloon, any compromised U.S. national security assets, and all telecom or IT infrastructure on the ground within the U.S. that this spy-balloon was utilizing. ... Montana plays a vital national security role by housing nuclear missile silos at Malmstrom AFB. Given the increased hostility and destabilization around the globe aimed at the United States and our allies, I am alarmed by the fact that this spy balloon was able to infiltrate the airspace of our country and Montana.
"China's brazen disregard for U.S. sovereignty”
This development comes just hours before Secretary of State Antony Blinken's departure for China. Kevin McCarthy, speaker of the House of Representatives, called for an urgent meeting of the "Gang of Eight," a team of legislators in charge of reviewing intelligence matters, to address the matter.
Through social media, McCarthy pointed directly to China being behind the surveillance balloon:
China’s brazen disregard for U.S. sovereignty is a destabilizing action that must be addressed, and President Biden cannot be silent. I am requesting a Gang of Eight briefing.
While McCarthy did not say whether he felt it should have been shot down, other Republican lawmakers expressed a different view. Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) accused the Pentagon of failing to respond adequately against the surveillance balloon:
Information strongly suggests the Department failed to act with urgency in responding to this airspace incursion by a high-altitude surveillance balloon. No incursion should be ignored, and should be dealt with appropriately.
Marjorie Taylor Greene, representative from Georgia, called for the destruction of the drone "immediately." On the other hand, Marco Rubio, senator from Florida, also described China's obsession with spying on the United States as “brazen.”
It was not only the Republican side that denounced the communist regime in Beijing. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), co-leader of the newly constituted Commission on China, noted:
Coming only days before Secretary Blinken’s trip to the PRC … it also makes clear that the CCP’s recent diplomatic overtures do not represent a substantive change in policy.
Increased military presence in the Philippines
A new front in the geopolitical conflict is opening up between China and the United States. Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Defense, announced the opening of four new military bases in the Philippines, emphasizing the strong relationship between the two countries:
The United States and the Philippines are more than just allies. We are family.
With these four new bases, Washington now has a total of nine bases in the Philippines. The reason for these openings is clear: the Philippines is just south of Taiwan, so the United States would increase its ability to intervene should China decide to invade Taiwanese territory. Tensions between Washington and Beijing escalated after former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taipei, Taiwan in August.
U.S. agriculture is Beijing's object of desire
Also in August, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission's warned about Beijing's interest in the U.S. agricultural sector. This poses "a significant threat to national security," as alleged by the Air Force.
Apparently, the Chinese have already entered U.S. farmland. The Fufeng Group, headquartered in China's Shandong Province, owns 370 acres and a corn mill in Grand Forks, N.D. According to the Chinese company, its activity brings economic benefits to the region. However, inhabitants suspect that it is a cover and is being used as a spying facility.
Republican Senators John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer share the Air Force's view of the threat posed by the Fufeng Group's presence in this North Dakota farmland:
The proposed project presents a significant threat to national security with both near- and long-term risks of significant impacts to our operations in the area.