Discover more from Random Minds by Katherine Brodsky
Chinese Spy Balloons
All anybody has been talking about in the last day or so are these “balloons” that have been appearing over the U.S. skyline and Latin America. There has been no shortage of speculation, fear mongering, paranoia and, well…comedy. At least there weren’t 99 balloons, some joked. Yet, I say.
Even my beloved Steve Martin commented:
Given that these balloons were transmitting encrypted data, they were certainly not merely collecting weather related data as many have pointed out, or else there would be no need to encrypt. Weather data isn’t known to be particularly secretive.
Mao Ning, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, responded:
“We have no intention to violate the territory or airspace of any sovereign country. We are gathering and verifying the facts. We hope both sides can handle the matter together in a cool-headed and prudent manner.” They later admitted that the balloon was indeed from China but described it as a “civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes,” claiming that it was merely steered off course by the wind.
That it took several days for the Biden administration to shoot down the balloon hovering over U.S. soil down is interesting. The claim is that it was safer to do so once it was over a body of water. That may true. It’s also possible that they were wanting to track its behavior prior to shooting it down and were jamming its transmission capabilities anyways, so the wait didn’t make a practical difference. Critics, however, say that prolonging this move showed a lack of decisive action and sent the wrong message to China. It showed that diplomacy was more important than a display of strength and that this action would be viewed as weakness by leadership in China. I think it’s important to remember that as much as we may speculate and read in media reports, there’s always information that we may not be privy to. What’s missing from our insights could completely change our perspective.
Now, this brings us back to why this balloon was sent in the first place. Many pundits have pointed out that China has far more sophisticated technology like an extensive satellite network for their espionage activities, which suggests a likely hypothesis: This was a signal by China to the U.S. Perhaps the message being: “We can reach you anytime we want.” It is also likely a test of their reaction. And it is likely to be only one of many. This type of technology was cheaper than the alternative, more limited in its data collection capabilities, bold, and easier to detect. Eg. This balloon was meant to be seen.
Consider, for a moment, this tweet from Consul General of China in Belfast (former Deputy Consul General in New York):
Consider also the geopolitical situation. Biden’s recent strike against China’s semiconductor industry (which I wrote about previously). China cosying up to Putin and Russia.
These escalations between China and the U.S. feel like a bit of a new breed of cold war to me, in some ways.
And yet, not quite.
We live in such a globalized world, where everything is interconnected. Our reliance on China, and China’s reliance on us is perhaps most glaring though. Even as they seek out new markets, the U.S. market is still a critical one.
Similarly, by outsourcing so much to China, the North American industry now relies on so much of its manufacturing to be done there. It can move away from China, but it will take some time to rebuilt what has been destroyed and abandoned over so many years.
For now, there’s a symbiotic relationship.
For years, China has also been investing in Hollywood’s cultural products, trying to figure out how to tell stories that will capture Western audiences. They’ve financed projects and brought on Americans/Canadians to work on theirs side-by-side in order to better understand and mimic our cultural products. These projects weren’t aimed at their own people, they were ultimately meant to be aimed towards us. Did they learn well enough, or did they let go of the idea? I’m not sure. But it suggests to me that what China wants is to be an influencer in the world. (I mean, look at TikTok).
I don’t think that what China wants is a physical war. I don’t think they are prepared for it. What they are looking to win is a war of ideas—a cultural war. And they want to outcompete with the U.S., destabilizing it, and kicking it off its throne as the world leader.
To them, it’s time for the East to reign and they are willing to send a few balloons to make it happen.
💬 What do you think: Am I completely wrong? Slightly right? What’s this balloon business all about? Let me know in the comments.
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Who am I? I’m a writer with an overactive imagination and a random mind. Outside of Substack, you’ll find my work in publications such as Newsweek, WIRED, Variety, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Esquire, Playboy, Mashable, CNN Travel, The Independent, and many others.