The incident of the Chinese hot-air balloon shot down by the United States thwarts the first US state visit to Beijing in almost six years

Chinese spy balloon and rising tensions in the New Cold War

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In addition to the already heightened tension over Taiwan and the recent agreement between Washington and Manila on access for US troops to military bases near the China Sea, the destruction of a Chinese spy balloon in the United States has set off alarm bells in the White House.

The Pentagon announced on the 2nd that it was tracking the movements of this spy device - or meteorological, according to Beijing - which was flying over the sky over the state of Montana, in the north-east of the country, precisely where one of the country's three nuclear missile silos is located. However, the US authorities recommended that no action be taken against the device for safety reasons because, if shot down, the wreckage could fall on the population. This scenario changed when the device entered the sea and was shot down by two fighter jets in the Atlantic.

Following the detection and destruction of the device, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered the shutdown of three airports on the east coast of the United States and the closure of airspace.

The incident, "irresponsible" for Washington and "of no great importance" for Beijing, has heightened tensions between these two powers, which are vying for world hegemony. At the outset, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called off his visit to China, the first state visit in six years to China and the first member of Joe Biden's Cabinet to meet Xi Jinping in Beijing. The reasons were unpolluted. "We are faced with an irresponsible act and a clear violation of US sovereignty and international law that undermines the purpose of the trip," a US State Department statement said.

The trip was cancelled precisely at a time when a certain d茅tente seemed to have begun, after the new foreign minister, Qin Gang, expressed a desire for greater rapprochement.

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However, the tension between the two countries has been felt. China initially apologised for the presence of the balloon which, according to the Chinese authorities, is "a civilian airship used for research purposes, mainly meteorological". But the downing of the spy device did not sit well with the Beijing regime. China said it was "very" dissatisfied with the downing of the balloon and reserves the right to any necessary reaction to the incident.   

For Beijing, the downing of the balloon was an "overreaction" on the part of the United States that violates international standard practices, as well as using this pretext "to attack and defame China", as the Chinese Foreign Ministry has stated.  

The second Chinese device detected this time over Latin America is still awaited, as reported by Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, Pentagon spokesman: "We are seeing information of a balloon that is flying over Latin America. We are assessing now that it is another Chinese surveillance balloon".   

The incident has also generated some domestic tension in the United States. The Republican opposition, which controls the House of Representatives, demanded a meeting of the Administration and congressional leaders to discuss the incident. For Mike Rounds, he would have preferred to capture the balloon and see if it was really designed to gather intelligence or was simply used to test the US response capability, as he said on Fox News.

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Tensions between China and the US have been rising for months, especially after Washington's latest moves near the China Sea. The meeting in January last year between Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fuimio Kishida was an important step in rearming Japan and South Korea to ensure stability in the Asia-Pacific region in the face of China's ambitions.

The other factor that dynamited Beijing's patience was the August 2022 visit to Taiwan by the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. This was a perceived affront to Beijing, especially when two months later, at the NATO summit in Madrid, Washington and all its allies put China for the first time on the list of major challenges. A challenge it shares with Russia in the Atlantic Alliance's new strategic concept.

Americas Coordinator: Jos茅 Antonio Sierra. 

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