Beijing Demands US to Return Debris From Shot Down Balloon; Official Media Lambastes 'Sputnik Moment' Rhetoric

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China refused to engage in talks with the US after Washington ordered the shooting down of the controversial Chinese airship that traveled across the US last week, the Department of Defense said.

"On Saturday, 4 February, immediately after taking action to down the PRC balloon, the DOD submitted a request for a secure call between Secretary Austin and PRC Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe ... Unfortunately, the PRC has declined our request. Our commitment to open lines of communication will continue," ," Brigadier General Pat Ryder said, according to AFP.

Chinese spy balloon
The Chinese spy balloon seen disintegrating in a white puff after being hit by a US Air Force missile Twitter

'Belongs to China'

Meanwhile, ratcheting up the tensions, China demanded that the US must return the balloon to it. The demand came amid the US plans to scour the seas and retrieve every part of the Chinese airship and subject them to scrutiny. However, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has insisted that the US must return the debris from the air balloon, saying that the aircraft 'belongs to China'.

"The airship does not belong to the US ... It belongs to China," ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said on Tuesday.

Though China reiterated that the airship was meant for weather research and it accidentally drifted into the US territory, the US holds the view that it was a sophisticated spy ship with advanced tech to monitor US military installations. The balloon had traversed the breadth of the country, hovering over territories that host many of the secret US military sites.

Worsening Relations

The US Airforce F-22 fighter jet shot down the Chinese spy balloon that floated across American airspace, eight days and 4,000 miles after it first crossed the US border. The balloon was shot down over the Atlantic Ocean off the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed Saturday.

The balloon incident worsened the already strained relations between China and the US. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was supposed to travel to China for a crucial visit, but the schedule was scrapped following the row over the shooting down of the balloon.

China responded angrily to the shooting down of the gigantic balloon, adding that Washington was overhyping the incident. "China is a responsible country and has always strictly abided by international law. We do not accept any groundless speculation and hype," Wang Yi, director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Chinese Communist Party said.

Hyping Up China Threat?

"The unexpected incident of the balloon gave some hawkish anti-China lawmakers a chance to attack China through the hype of "China spying" and "China threat", underscoring the increasing tensions between the world's two largest economies," Global Times, the Communist party mouthpiece, said.

China's official media also lambasted the mainstream response in the US over the balloon incident. The national security risk angle was hyped up across the US establishments, China says. They cite the example of US Republican congressman Michael Waltz's statement that the 'Chinese spy balloon' was 'a Sputnik moment for America'.

The Global Times pushes back against this argument, saying that comparing the civilian balloon to the Soviet Union's launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957 was a fallacy. "Waltz's analogy between a Chinese civilian airship, which does not involve much technology, and Sputnik mirrors how ignorant, arrogant as well as vulnerable some US politicians are," the Global Times cites Shen Yi, a professor at Fudan University, as saying.

"If there is a Sputnik moment between Beijing and Washington, the Chinese tech giant Huawei's technological advancement in 5G is more like it. In response to the satellite Sputnik in 1957, Washington expanded its support for scientific research and education at an unprecedented rate, in a bid to boost US' capabilities to compete with the Soviet Union. But when dealing with Huawei, the US has adopted a series of means to suppress this tech company, instead of going all out to develop its own technology. It's also a sign of the US' decline," Shen added.

This article was first published on February 8, 2023