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China’s Balloon Program a Threat to ‘Global Security,’ NATO Chief Says

Published: February 9, 2023
At left, Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, Director for Operations, Joint Chiefs of Staff, leaves a closed-door briefing for House members about the Chinese spy balloon at the U.S. Capitol Feb. 9, 2023 in Washington, DC. Military and administration officials are briefing both houses of Congress today about the U.S. response to China's use of a spy balloon in American airspace. (Image: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg warned on Feb. 8, during a joint press conference with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, that China’s surveillance flight program is a threat to “global” security after the Pentagon revealed that it had confirmed Chinese surveillance craft over Europe, North America, South America and many parts of Asia. 

In addition, the Biden administration said on Thursday that China’s military is likely responsible for a massive aerial spy program that has targeted upwards of 40 nations on five continents with high-altitude surveillance balloons.

Stoltenberg argued that the Communist Party incursions demonstrates the importance of international security organizations like NATO, adding that China represents a security threat not only to the United States but to the globe. 

“The Chinese balloon over the United States confirms a pattern of Chinese behavior, where we see China over the last years has invested heavily in new military capabilities, including different types of surveillance and intelligence platforms,” Stoltenberg said adding that, “And we’ve also seen Chinese intelligence activities in Europe – again, different platforms. They use satellites, they use cyber, and, as we’ve seen over the United States, also balloons.”

The recent incident, which saw the U.S. shoot down a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon over the Atlantic Ocean, has further deteriorated U.S.-Ch

Immediately after the shoot-down, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, attempted to contact his counterpart, Defense Minister Wei Fenghe, however China rejected his request to speak, Fox News reported. 


A vast surveillance program

On Thursday, a senior State Department official provided the most detail to date concerning the balloon incident, linking China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to the balloon and stating that China has developed a vast surveillance program. 

China is accused of violating international law and U.S. sovereignty by flying its balloon over the continental United States. 

China continues to deny any wrongdoing and even claimed on Thursday that U.S. accusations about the balloon amount to “information warfare” against Beijing. 

The U.S. has concluded that the balloon was “capable of conducting signals intelligence collection” and had multiple antennas and equipment designed to upload sensitive information, after examining the balloon in flight using American U-2 spy planes. 

Signal collection is a branch of military intelligence concerned with the monitoring, interception, and interpretation of radio signals, radar signals and telemetry. 

“The official said an analysis of the balloon debris is ‘inconsistent’ with China’s explanation that it was a weather balloon that went off course,” Spectrum News NY reported. 

He said the U.S. is in contact with other countries that have also been targeted to discuss the scope of the Communist Party’s surveillance program. 

Following the meeting between Blinken and Stoltenberg on Wednesday Blinken said that they “also discussed the systemic and tactical challenges that China presents to the alliance and the broader international system,” adding that the U.S. is analyzing parts of the recovered balloon to gather more information about the equipment and the data it was intended to collect. 


More information coming

Blinken said that the U.S. will be releasing more information in the coming days as they continue to salvage the balloon. The U.S. is utilizing underwater rescue teams and unmanned underwater vehicles to retrieve the debris. 

Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon Press Secretary, told reporters on Wednesday that the balloon and four previous ones that flew over U.S. territory are “part of a larger Chinese surveillance balloon program … that’s been operated for several years.”

“What we do know is that in some cases, whereas some of these balloons previously had not been identified, subsequent intelligence analysis did enable us to indicate that these were Chinese balloons in terms of where they’re coming from,” Ryder said.

Ryder believes that the incursions are helping U.S. authorities identify Chinese spying, telling reporters, “This last week provided the United States with a unique opportunity to learn a lot more about the Chinese surveillance balloon program, all information that will help us to continue to strengthen our ability to track these kinds of objects.”

He didn’t comment further on what U.S. locations or data the previous balloons tracked but said they were “looking to surveil strategic sites to include some of our strategic bases in the continental United States.”