“It is Balloon!” Joe Biden Should Be Embarrassed by Spy Overflight from China: The Pentagon admits it has been tracking a Chinese spy balloon in U.S. airspace. To be clear. This is no laughing matter. That said, it is hard not recall the iconic scene from the 1960s sitcom F Troop, where the Hekawi tribe is flummoxed by the sight of a hot air balloon. The response in the Oval Office seems to have been not much different.
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What China just did, however, is no joke. And neither is this reminder of the fundamental weakness of Biden’s China policy.
For starters, we should all be upset that the administration let Americans be caught off guard. Apparently, this isn’t the first time. Last year, a similar balloon (that hadn’t been formally attributed to China) was spotted off coast of Kauai, near the Barking Sands Missile range, where we test missile interceptors and new radar systems, as well as the submarine school test range. Reportedly, there were overflights of Guam and Canada as well.
It is worth asking why China is doing this. Beijing always acts with intentionality. So, what is their intention here? As my colleague, Dustin Carmack notes, “China’s space intel capabilities are exquisite and growing.” So why use such a down-to-earth platform like a balloon? Initial reports out of the Pentagon dismissed the craft as not much of a threat. Yet surely they know that aerostats are increasingly being used by military forces and bring a lot of niche capability.
Blithely discounting threat suggests that Team Biden does not have its eye on the national security ball. The president looks as serious about the protecting the sanctity of American airspace as he is about securing the border.
China’s response to the incident is equally troubling. Beijing appears to assume that Americans are just stupid. They assert the balloon is a civilian weather-tracking aircraft—a claim that is clearly nonsense. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is playing our leaders for fools.
The Biden administration needs to wake up to reality, take off the kid gloves and move swiftly to protect our national security. But there’s the rub. This White House has no idea how to handle China.
For the Administration, this is as much a political issue as it is a security issue. The initial response from downplayed the incident. Apparently, Biden said just shoot the thing down—and the Pentagon said hold on, maybe not. By mid-morning, however, when the administration figured out that the incursion was unsettling to Americans, they decided this was a big deal after all. Things then shifted, with Secretary Blinken cancelling or postponing a planned trip to Beijing.
This incident shows the serious limitation of Biden’s effort to stabilize relations with China, cooperate on climate policy, and “compete where we must, but cooperate where we can.” He has been blindly following the John Kerry playbook: Please don’t upset China; you might make them mad, and then I can’t jet over there and engage in useless climate dialogue.”
Meanwhile, we see increasing signs Beijing is trying to reel in Biden like a big fish. Of late, China has shed the aggressive, “wolf warrior” diplomacy that was its fashion of late. It is clear Beijing now thinks it can manipulate the U.S. administration with selective engagement.
The White House faces a serious challenge. Americans—and many of our allies—are increasingly skeptical of both China and the Administration’s impulse to temper relations with Beijing.
Biden has more than an America problem. His hold on global leadership is awfully shaky. Half of our allies, encouraged by Biden’s ambivalence, persist in treating China like a business partner, a competitor, and a security threat all at the same time. But the other half are turning their backs on China.
For instance, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have already baled on China’s 17+1 cooperative format. Italy is thinking about dumping its Belt and Road agreement. Others, like the UK, Greece and Romania, have banned Huawei. These friends could use some real leadership from Washington.
Biden’s approach is not sustainable. The Administration risks trailing Americans and some critical allies in addressing China’s destabilizing and threatening actions.
I have more confidence in the Hekawi tribe.
A Heritage Foundation vice president and 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, James Jay Carafano directs the think tank’s research on matters of national security and foreign affairs.