Can China and U.S. move past the 'ballooning' tensions?
Updated 20:10, 15-Mar-2023
First Voice

Editor's note: CGTN's First Voice provides instant commentary on breaking stories. The video format of the column brings in dialogues with experts from across the world to offer a nuanced take on contemporary issues and events of global relevance.

While the U.S. trades a dangerous path to nuclearize the Asia-Pacific region with the AUKUS partnership under which Australia is getting access to nuclear-powered submarines – a substantial security threat in the region, the hue and cry that came out of Washington over a harmless Chinese weather balloon a few weeks ago exposes its double-standards.

For about a week from January 28th to February 4th, a Chinese high-altitude weather test balloon was perhaps the most watched object on Earth.

The U.S. made a big show of shooting down the balloon. The incident soon snowballed into a diplomatic crisis with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponing his visit to China.

Here's Zhiqun Zhu, Professor of Political Science and International Relations, at Bucknell University, Pennsylvania sharing with us his take on this whirlwind.

Edited excerpts:

CGTN: In your opinion, does the balloon crisis represent a major escalation or is it simply a minor incident blown out of proportion? It's been a month since. How have both sides handled the incident so far?

Zhiqun Zhu: I think the balloon incident shows how delicate and fragile the U.S. - China relationship is. I think immediately the two governments tried to downplay the balloon incident. Unfortunately, this relatively minor incident has been turned into a crisis in a bilateral relationship.

In the United States, for example, some members of Congress and the media will simply not let it go. They started to attack China for threatening U.S. security, and they also attacked President Biden for not shooting down the balloon sooner. Meanwhile, in China, the Foreign Ministry started to accuse the United States of frequently spying on China, including with surveillance balloons. So, due to domestic pressures, the war of words escalated between the two sides.

CGTN: The postponement of Blinken's China visit was one of the key fallouts of the balloon incident. Has it closed any chances of dialogue and reconciliation between the two sides?

Zhiqun Zhu: I think the communication channels are still open. Secretary of State Blinken only postponed the trip to Beijing. He did not actually cancel it. As soon as conditions are right, he will visit Beijing, And Blinken, as I mentioned, did meet with Wang Yi in Munich recently, which is a sign that the two governments have been communicating with each other. In addition, economic and finance officials from both countries are talking to each other now, and the embassies in each other's capitals are also in frequent contact with their host governments.

I think the communication channels are open. They are talking to each other, which is good. Hopefully, they will be able to restore the relationship.

CGTN: It is well known that the U.S. carries out international espionage ops routinely against adversaries and even allies. Is the U.S. truly in a position to lecture other countries on spying of all things and take a moral high ground?

Zhiqun Zhu: I think the core of the issue here is not who can take a moral high ground. I think the core of the issue here is how and whether the two powers can manage their relationship. The balloon incident shows how difficult it is to manage this relationship. I think the balloon incident actually will, unfortunately, become a contentious issue in U.S. domestic politics, especially as the U.S. presidential campaign starts soon. I can guess all these presidential candidates will certainly attack each other and compete on who is tougher on China.

The priorities for the two sides are to tone down their rhetoric and focus on managing this difficult relationship judiciously, so as to avoid conflict in the future. That's what I hope the two governments can do now. And I think that conflict is not in anybody's interest. Right?

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at Follow @thouse_opinions on Twitter to discover the latest commentaries in the CGTN Opinion Section.)

Search Trends