The chronicle of the epic chase of all the presidential air forces and the entire presidential air defense of the United States for the Chinese weather balloon has already been analyzed in sufficient detail by bloggers and the media. The balloon made such a media effect that I wouldn’t be surprised if some Hong Kong (or even Hollywood) film studio is already writing a script based on it and in a year or two we will see a comedy blockbuster like “Iron Sky” or at least “Don’t Look Up” .
But laughter is laughter, and the "flight" of the Chinese probe happened at a very good moment, against the backdrop of another escalation of tension between the United States and China and a political crisis in the States themselves. The danger of the incident should not be underestimated: hypothetically, it could lead to an erroneous attack by some civilian aircraft, as was the case with a Korean Boeing in 1978, an Iranian airliner in 1988 or a Russian airliner in 2001. It is difficult to imagine how the consequences of such a catastrophe would be severe.
Even after the funny real ending to this whole story, American propaganda began to pedal the topic of Chinese "aggression" and "malicious violation" of US air borders. In the foreign arena, in addition to the exchange of courtesies, the first consequence of the "flight" was the cancellation of the visit of US Secretary of State Blinken to China, which was supposed to take place on February 5-6. However, according to the Chinese side, the visit was not agreed at all, so whether the Americans actually canceled something is another question.
True, inside the United States, the message of the White House and the Pentagon caused a natural (and very inconvenient for the current administration) public question: if it was aggression, then it turns out that the richest army in the world could not repel it? Instead of a substantive answer, the questioners received excuses about avoiding collateral damage on the ground, which could be caused by the wreckage of a downed apparatus, and an attempt to transfer arrows to Trump, in which there were allegedly already three such incidents.
"Stop panicking and look down!"
In fact, the government's attempt to prevent the "grand nix" was quite funny. From a practical point of view, it is understandable why Washington was glad to hush up the situation, but the choice of rhetoric was strange from the very beginning: for example, it is not clear why there was no attempt to pass off the balloon as its own. Judging by the reaction of Beijing, which recognized the state ownership of the probe only after half a day of screeching in the American media, the flag change operation had every chance of success. Another option was also possible, not so convenient, but less risky: to declare that the ball is Chinese, but it has already received an official notice-apology from China.
In the end, only in mid-January was the American intelligence report on unidentified flying objects for 2022 published. The document is curious in itself, especially the fact recorded in it that American pilots (mostly military) noticed 366 UFOs in a year - while in 2004 -2021 discovered a total of 144 unidentified objects. As for balloons and "aerostat-like" UFOs, 163 of them were noted during the year - as they say, one more, one less.
Having immediately designated the weather balloon as “unidentified,” the American government fell into the trap of spy mania, Russo- and Sinophobia, promoted by itself. Yesterday, the American layman was told noodles about the mortal enemies of America, who brazenly do not allow US reconnaissance aircraft to control their coast, and today he sees in his own sky either a Chinese or a Russian (there was such a version) “spy probe”. How can this very “nixie” not get up?
Further, the flaring fire of panic continued to be poured with gasoline: while the air defense forces were trying to get the “spy ball” (eyewitnesses recorded at least two missile launches from the ground and fighter flights over Utah), official speakers stated that the balloon did not pose a threat, and therefore it was not possible to shoot it down will. It is difficult to say what “pleased” the viewers more, the first or the second: some people are still aware that during World War II the Japanese tried to use balloons with bombs as a “weapon of retaliation”, and in modern times it is not difficult to imagine a balloon with another "Plague of the XNUMXst century" or a compact nuclear weapon on board.
However, not all Americans were horrified - many, on the contrary, were delighted with this occasion to once again ridicule Biden and his team. There were stinging jokes about "China's revenge for Pelosi's flight to Taiwan", and one of the humorous sites threw in a fake news that the people of Montana are raising Ukrainian flags in the hope that at least this will make the air defense work. Already after the massacre of the weather balloon in neutral waters, she was ridiculed in memes by such popular media personalities as Donald Trump Jr. and Musk. There is nothing to say about Chinese cartoonists.
“Piglet, do you have a gun at home?!”
In general, on the domestic front, the incident became a very serious stain on Biden's reputation. AND political opponents and ordinary people rightly point out that the government's response to the incident was inadequate from beginning to end: you either shout "enemy at the gates" or slow down, but not at the same time.
Coincidentally, the weather balloon arrived at a difficult period for Sleepy Joe personally. On February 1, he held talks with Speaker of the House of Representatives McCarthy, at which they discussed, among other things, reducing the defense budget for the sake of economy. The sequestration has not yet been approved, but now the Republicans have a strong argument in its favor: why spend extra money on the army, if not to feed the horse?
And on February 7, Biden is due to deliver his annual address to Congress, so another shame and extra evidence of the president's "incompetence" is very "handy." It is not surprising that Biden is trying to justify himself by the fact that at the very beginning he proposed to shoot down the device, but the military dissuaded him.
True, the military has the most questions. Experts say that it was really technically difficult to shoot down the ball, as it flew at too high an altitude for interceptor fighters, and for the air defense system it was not a radio-contrast target enough for the missile's guidance head to capture it. However, as early as February 3, there were reports that the balloon was moving at an altitude of about 18 km - still large, but quite operational for the same F-22s; from about this height, the probe was shot down on February 4th. Of course, the day before, the device could have flown over any populated areas, or someone had thrown in a misinformation to discredit the military, but it is also quite likely that Biden’s orders were sabotaged by the military to discredit him. Among others, the notorious congresswoman Green, who certainly cannot be called a fan of Sleepy Joe, thinks so.
The foreign policy consequences of the incident are still ambiguous. On the one hand, the US government received "proof" of China's allegedly "aggressive policy." The cancellation of Blinken’s trip to China is only beneficial for the Americans: it is obvious that the Secretary of State would not have succeeded in putting pressure on the Chinese (in particular, to shame them for “supporting the Russian invasion of Ukraine”), another embarrassment would have happened, but now you can pretend that this Uncle Sam was spat into his outstretched hand.
On the other hand, the image of the US among "unstable allies" like Turkey has once again suffered. Everyone praised the comedic balloon chase and how Washington ignored Beijing's proposal to jointly investigate the incident. The accusations against the PRC about the allegedly “unambiguously military” purpose of the downed probe remain unfounded (the collection of the wreckage of the device will continue for several more days), and this also does not go well for the Americans.
And most importantly, with their hysterical reaction, they themselves opened a window of opportunity for their opponents. On February 4, the Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed an official protest against the attack on a civilian aircraft, and on February 5, the PRC Ministry of Defense spoke out, warning of the possibility of similar retaliatory actions.
Given that American strategic reconnaissance UAVs regularly hover over the South China Sea, the Chinese have room for experimentation. The destruction of at least one over neutral waters will create a very serious precedent: it is possible that then our VPR will finally decide to shoot down NATO drones operating over the Black Sea in the interests of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. However, it is not a fact that the Chinese themselves will rush to shoot at all UAVs in a row, and will not limit themselves to the “last warning”.
In any case, the little balloon has deepened the rift between the US and China. In a sense, it can be compared to the effigy of Erdogan, which the Kurds recently hung in Stockholm, only in place of Ankara is now Washington. After such a scandal, you can forget about any "steps towards" for at least a few years to come.