Tensions Rise Over Objects in US Airspace

Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken (he/him) postponed his planned diplomatic visit to China after a suspected Chinese spy balloon was seen floating over the United States. The U.S. Air Force shot down the balloon off the coast of South Carolina on February 4th. Debris from the wreckage was recovered, and investigations by the FBI are underway, though a senior FBI official told NBC that analysis was still in its early stages. From February 10th through February 12th, an additional three objects were shot down over American and Canadian airspace. Writing for The Washington Post, Philip Bump (he/him) explained that the rash of objects is more likely due to increased alertness for them than any sudden influx. During a press conference, Air Force General Glen VanHerck (he/him) explained, “If you have radars on all the time that we’re looking at anything from zero speed up to, say, 100, you would see a lot more information.”

Ongoing tensions between the U.S. and China had already been heightened over economic competition, political disputes, and human rights. China is the United States’ largest trading partner, and the US ranks second in trade with China only behind the European Union. A trade war began between the two nations during Donald Trump’s (he/him) presidency. This has driven up the price of goods because of tariffs placed on imports.

Political differences have also been a sore spot. The U.S. does not recognize Taiwanese sovereignty. However, diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Taiwan, as well as the sale of American weapons to the island, have angered China, which maintains that Taiwan remains under its government. Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (she/her, D-CA) visited the island in August of last year, prompting outrage from the mainland. The U.S. has also criticized Beijing’s harsh treatment of the Uyghur Muslims, including forced labor and detainment, referring to it as “genocide” under the Trump administration. The war in Ukraine is another fraught subject. Although China has officially sanctioned Russia, a report from The Wall Street Journal asserts that trade data shows evidence of defense companies owned by the Chinese government providing Russia with military aid.

It is currently unknown whether President Biden (he/him) will reschedule Secretary Blinken’s trip, which was planned for February 5th and 6th. With the visit on-hold, the wait to relieve long-standing diplomatic tensions continues.

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