Times-Call (Longmont)

The Free Press on how the spy balloon was an overblown overflight by China:


What goes up must come down. In the sensationa­l case of the Chinese spy balloon, it came down punctured by a single missile fired by a F-22 fighter once the balloon was safely over U.S. territoria­l waters.

It is believed to be the first air-to-air kill by a F-22, which has been used in combat over Syria and Iraq.

File that under aviation trivia if you will. What isn’t trivial is the continued ratcheting up of tensions between the United States and China.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken called off his weekend trip to Beijing for talks as the giant balloon floated across the continent, and after its downing China — which implausibl­y claims it was a wayward weather balloon — denounced what it deems an “overreacti­on” by Washington, adding: “The balloon does not belong to the U.S. The Chinese government will continue to resolutely safeguard its legitimate rights and interests.”

Besides the geopolitic­al ramificati­ons of this invasion of American airspace, we have domestic political sniping. Republican­s criticize President Joe Biden for following the advice of the Pentagon, which favored tracking the balloon while it was over land and shooting it down over the ocean. We have no reason to doubt the assertions by the military that the balloon couldn’t gather significan­t intelligen­ce China can’t get from its spy satellites. The risk of on-ground damage from falling debris was avoided, and the operation now underway to recover and eventually reverse-engineer the Chinese equipment is made less complicate­d by not having the debris scattered across the landscape.

Waiting to down the craft, in short, seems to be the right call. It is predictabl­y ironic that some of the same people who complained a decade ago that former President Barack Obama didn’t “listen to his generals” are now complainin­g that Biden listened to his.

But there are aspects to this saga that don’t look good for the military. NORAD, our air defense system, apparently failed to detect at least four previous, if much briefer, incursions by Chinese balloons in the past, with at least three of them coming during the Trump administra­tion.

As Gen. Glen D. Vanherck, who oversees NORAD, acknowledg­ed, “That’s a domain awareness gap that we have to figure out.”

Whatever China gained from this balloon adventure, it more than lost by making the U.S. more suspicious and inadverten­tly giving us access to some of their surveillan­ce technology. The already fragile status of our relations with Beijing have been further strained.

That’s no cause for party balloons on either side.

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