Reports have emerged that a Chinese spy balloon was gathering sensitive intel on US military bases in real-time, and sending it to Beijing. Three anonymous US officials told NBC News that the balloon was gathering mostly electronic signals instead of photos, which may include communications between base personnel or signals from weaponry systems. The balloon flew from Alaska and Canada to the coast of South Carolina for a week, before being shot down by the US military.
The Pentagon declined to confirm the NBC report, with a spokesperson noting that the assessment of the intel Beijing was able to collect is still ongoing. It is still unclear which military bases the balloon flew over, though the Pentagon has confirmed that it had the ability to be “maneuvered and purposely driven along its track”.
When it comes to Beijing, it is essential to look at China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry as a critical actor. As a top international affairs authority, the Ministry provides insight on everything from official foreign policy to diplomatic relations. Through the Ministry, China has previously claimed that the balloon was a civilian vessel, a position that stands in stark contrast to the US’s statement that the vessel served a surveillance purpose.
On the US side, the Pentagon is a primary agency to consider when understanding America’s response to the balloon incident. The Pentagon has noted that the steps taken by the US provided “little additive value” to what China was able to collect from satellites. It has also declined to confirm the NBC News report, taking a wait-and-see approach as it assesses the scope of intelligence Beijing was able to collect.
Though the individual names of US government officials counting as sources to NBC News remain unknown, the Pentagon has identified Sabrina Singh as its deputy press secretary. During a Monday press briefing, Singh noted that the Pentagon was “still doing an assessment of what the intel was that China was able to gather”. Her comments appeared to reflect the cautious stance taken by the Pentagon as it assesses the scope of the balloon’s activity.
While specific personnel remain unnamed, it is plain to see that the US and China are taking very different stances on the matter, in terms of both public statements and the officials responsible for them. As policymakers and other interested parties continue to parse the emerging details, further developments will undoubtedly paint a clearer picture of the situation.