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Shoot it Down
Spy Balloons and domestic China concerns
It was a scene out of a 1980s action movie: a spy balloon floating over Montana.
The Biden Administration’s tepid response to the Chinese aggravators, however, is very much on-point for 2023 Hollywood - bending to Chinese desires and not wanting to cause offense.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Chinese counterpart the balloon was “unacceptable” and cancelled his trip to Beijing. The Chinese tried to play it all down, saying “the balloon was for civilian research and had ‘deviated far from its planned course.’”
All this is serious business but it’s hard not to have a laugh. At what point is a Chinese surveillance balloon funny?
Is it when we realize the Chinese are trying to steal that which we don’t have? In response to Chinese surveillance, I imagine many Americans, though defiant, might offer resignation: “You can’t take my privacy because I have none left to give.” It’s not that the current regime opposes spying on Americans. Their objection is that someone else does it.
Or is it at the moment we understand that the Chinese balloon is the least of our Chinese problems? The balloon is the fly in the sour wine. It’s the flat tire when after your engine has seized up. The balloon is, well, just a balloon when we have greater concerns about the elected and unelected officials serving as Chinese agents in Washington.
At least we can keep track of the Chinese intelligence airship as it drifts from the sky above Montana to wherever the winds take it – reportedly Missouri, or “the center of the continental United States.”
It’s the difference between collection and damage. The Chinese balloon might observe but it isn’t using our own politicians to advance our destruction. To that point, I’m reminded of the important pieces by Lee Smith detailing China’s clout “over the U.S. economy and political system.” It’s the Chinese who have spent millions of dollars purchasing influence over American universities like Stanford and Washington think tanks like Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
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That’s just influence over elites. Then there’s the influence operation over you and I. American newspapers are more than willing to accept millions of Chinese dollars in furtherance of that goal. The expenses of the “China Daily”, described as the “official publication of the People’s Republic of China” (meaning the party’s official propaganda arm) are document in its Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) filings, available here. One of its more recent FARA filings shows hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to publications such as The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, and The Chicago Tribune. China Daily was even a paid partner of The Wall Street Journal, along with The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Those “advertising” dollars really served another more important purpose: to influence the media’s coverage of China. Pfizer and Moderna have the same idea by making large advertisements or sponsoring news coverage. (Cue the announcer: “Van Gogh masterpiece defaced by aerosol human excrement, brought to you by Pfizer.”)
To the credit of Americans – not the Administration, but Americans – the only reason the balloon is still in the air is because it’s not low enough to shoot down. While we may be complacent about electronic surveillance, there’s something more offensive and deeply unamerican about being watched by unmanned aircraft. Millions of Americans – most Americans – want one shot at the balloon. It’s the annoying neighbor’s drone hovering above your backyard, times a million. It’s the middle finger at Big Brother and the communists. It’s being the hero in Billings and the villain in DC.
We guess that explains Biden’s inaction.