The 1956 French classic “The Red Balloon” tells the tale of a young boy who befriends a stray gasbag and follows it around Paris, mixing wonder and adventure. In the darkly comic 2023 re-make, an actual red, as in Communist Chinese, spy balloon floats over the American state of Montana, where many of our ICBMs stand at the ready in underground silos, and no one seems to know what to do.
First, President Joe Biden tells the military to shoot it down, but generals counter that such rash action could endanger people and property beneath. Apparently the Pentagon knows more than retired Navy SEAL and Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke, who has urged the administration to knock it out of the sky, assuring them that Roosevelt County, over which the Chinese spy balloon was last seen, is among his state’s least populated areas with very little below to be harmed.
Then, following inaction by the Federal government, the balloon floated deeper into the American heartland and, by midday Friday, was believed to be hovering somewhere over Nebraska. By this time the Chinese government has grudgingly admitted the balloon belongs to them, but says the whole thing is a terrible misunderstanding and that it “drifted unintentionally” into US airspace.
Now, private Cessna pilots flying over Kansas, have reported the balloon is hovering some 50,000 feet over the earth there. Perhaps Dorothy and Toto can lend a hand and a paw in the matter given the reluctance of U.S. officials to irritate the Chinese government. But wait, this just in…
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken – fearing his boss could appear weak in the face of China – has cancelled a postponed a scheduled visit to Beijing until the matter can be sorted. Phew, that will show them.
Ever since Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley took time out of his busy schedule on January 6, 2021 to phone Beijing and tell them they needn’t worry too much about the continuity of America’s constitutional order, a growing number of foreign policy observers have questioned whether the current administration is indeed serious about countering China, whose global activities threaten democratic processes nearly everywhere on earth.
Early in the Bush administration, one of the first foreign policy tests for the new president came when a U.S. EP-3 spy plane was forced to land in China. In addition to the diplomatic embarrassment, the main concern at that time was that the Chinese could steal technology aboard so the superpowers went head to head in a test of wills that ended with Beijing agreeing to let U.S. personnel dismantle the aircraft and ship it home. That was back when America was on offense.
Now the worm has turned, apparently. Today, American corporations bow to the Chinese when they rankle at content in American movies, just as the National Basketball Association (NBA) has joined the kow-tow parade. When the general manager of the Houston Rockets expressed solidarity with pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong last year, Hall of Famer LeBron James scoffed that the Texan “had not been educated” about the importance of not offending Chinese government officials.
Late last year, New York City authorities grudgingly acted to shut down a “police station” the Chinese government had apparently been operating in America’s largest city. Last week, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy declined to re-appoint California Rep. Eric Swalwell to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in the wake of revelations that Swalwell – one of the loudest boosters of the Russia-collusion narrative – had carried on a romantic relationship with Fang Fang, a Chinese spy.
Wisconsin Congressman Mike Gallagher will chair a select committee in the new Congress to look at Chinese government influence in the United States, and the energetic former Marine may end up with one of the biggest workload of any of the various investigations now getting under way.
In the meantime, Americans can spend our time looking up in the sky and wondering where the spy balloon will appear next.