By Barry Sheppard
What began as an overblown diplomatic response by Washington to a Chinese surveillance balloon that drifted across the continental U.S. before it was shot down over the Atlantic, has morphed into a major confrontation between the two countries.
Unlike previous spy balloons, such as the U.S. balloon that was shot down by China in 1974 (only one example), this balloon was operating at a very high altitude, in what has been called near-space, where the atmosphere is very thin, well above where commercial jets can fly, but advanced fighter planes can.
China has developed such balloons since 2019, and they have travelled across many countries. These balloons can be used for meteorological and other civilian uses, as well as military surveillance.
With great fanfare, the course of the balloon was followed on TV, portraying the incident as a major threat to the U.S.
The purpose of the drama was immediately evident in the cancellation of a trip to Beijing by U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, which had been set up to arrange the first meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Biden, to establish better relations.
The Biden-Xi meeting was cancelled, an ominous beginning to what has snowballed into U.S. threats that could lead to a major reconfiguration of world politics into a new version of the Cold War, when the U.S. confronted both the Soviet Union and China.
Charges, counter charges, denials and other sharp exchanges about each country’s spy programs became thick in the aftermath of the balloon incident.
That countries spy on one another, to the degree their capabilities allow, is hardly news. It isn’t clear what military uses the balloon had, since very detailed military surveillance is done by the many satellites countries, including China and the U.S., have launched in space. There is speculation in the press that the balloon may have been collecting electronic communications data.
The U.S. charges that the Chinese balloon “violated U.S. sovereignty.” But doesn’t every spy satellite that is in space orbit somewhat higher than near-space violate the sovereignty of every country they fly over?
Such satellites collect more information over a wider area than a balloon can.
An article in the New York Times reported that a “Chinese foreign policy spokesman, Wang Wenbin, said on February 13, that the United States ran the ‘largest spy network in the world’, and that it had conducted extensive global surveillance, including capturing electronic communications.
“Mr. Wang also said the United States had sent 10 balloons illegally into Chinese airspace since last year, an accusation that prompted an immediate and furious denial from the White House.”
Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, “said that Beijing ‘to this day has failed to offer any credible explanations for its intrusion into our airspace and the airspace of others.’
“The combative exchange indicates how quickly the espionage of the two nations are becoming a revived point of tension in a relationship that is caught in a downward spiral.”
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken used the Munich Security Conference of February 18-19 to raise the tensions with China to a new and higher level.
He said the U.S. has intelligence reports indicating that, behind the scenes, Beijing was tilting to stronger support for Mr. Putin and was “considering providing lethal support to Russia in its aggression against Ukraine.”
Should that occur, he warned, there would be “far reaching consequences.”
A report in the New York Times said, “Asked about the accusations from Mr. Blinken and other U.S. officials, Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the [Chinese] foreign ministry, suggested that, on the contrary, it was the United States that was implicated in bloodshed in Ukraine.
“ ‘It’s the U.S. and not China that has been incessantly sending weapons to the battlefield, and the U.S. is not qualified to issue any orders to China,’ Mr. Wang said at a news conference in Beijing.”
The U.S. is by far the top arms dealer in the world selling arms to whomever it wants. Between 2017 and 2021 it has sold arms to 100 countries, for $111 billion – money injected into the vast U.S. arms industry. It is indeed “not qualified to issue any orders to China.”
Wang Yi, China’s most important foreign policy official, was at the Munich conference. When asked about Ukraine in a question-and-answer session at the conference, Wang Yi said “We are deeply concerned by the expanded and extended crisis,” according to the Times.
He also hinted that he thought the United States has a geopolitical interest in perpetuating the fighting in Ukraine, the Times said:
“Some forces may not want to see any peace talks materialize,” Wang Yi said.
“They don’t care about the life and death of the Ukrainians, nor the harm to Europe. They may have goals larger than Ukraine itself.”
It was Blinken himself who confirmed at the conference that the U.S. does not want any peace talks materialize, in a rebuttal to Wang Yi’s call for negations and peace in Ukraine.
Blinken sometimes doesn’t sugar coat the truth. Some months ago, he said the “U.S. objective in the war in Ukraine is to weaken Russia.” In reply to Wang Yi’s call at the conference, Blinken lashed out at all in the world who call for negotiations and peace. He derided such calls, with the argument that any cease fire, or even a pause in the fighting, would only be utilized by Russia to prepare for further aggression.
That leaves only one choice: to fight to the last drop of Ukrainian blood (not U.S. or German or British blood) until Russia is defeated, weakened to the point where it would fall under U.S. domination.
Blinken made clear that it is the U.S. who would not accept any negotiations over Ukraine, and the U.S. calls the shots.
Washington’s threats against China are backed by a large number of U.S. military basses East Asia – 313 by the Pentagon’s count. Those are part of the around 750 bases outside the USA itself. Recently the U.S. has added four more bases in the Philippines, bringing the total in that country to nine.
U.S. ally Japan is re-militarising. Washington’s war ships regularly patrol in the South China Sea, including near mainland China and Taiwan, as part of its stepped-up threats against any attempt by China to reclaim Taiwan – which was historically part of China.
An article in the New York Times – whose editorial policy supports U.S. imperialism – said that should China begin to send military aid to Russia, that “would transform the nature of the conflict, turning it into an epochal struggle involving all three of the world’s largest nuclear powers and their partners on opposing sides: Russia, China, Iran and North Korea aligned against the United States, Ukraine and their European and Asian allies and partners, including Japan and South Korea.”
But that would be triggered not by China giving military aid to Russia beyond the already existing close military cooperation between the two countries, which would only be a quantitative and not qualitative shift.
It would be a result of Blinken’s threats of “far reaching consequences.”
Washington’s actions, more than just its words, demonstrates this new version of the Cold War is exactly what it wants, and has been working toward.
There is another factor. Global South countries representing the majority of the world’s population are not lining up behind the U.S., but disregarding the U.S. sanctions against Russia. This includes India and other countries in southeast Asia, the Arab countries, Latin America, and Africa.
Even Israel, a close ally of the US and an imperialist country in its own right, is not adhering to the U.S. sanctions.