PNW community wonders what’s up with those Chinese weather balloons

Balloons have captured the nation’s attention since a large Chinese weather or surveillance balloon was spotted over Montana on Feb. 1.

PNW community members who focus on international relations wonder why.

“It’s not as big a deal as many make it out to be, it has happened in the past,” said Yu Ouyang, a Political Science instructor. “If the government thought it was an urgent issue they would have shot it down way earlier.”

Government investigators were analyzing debris from the balloon, which was shot out of the sky on Feb. 4, to determine what it was designed to do.  Ouyang said China may have been spying.

“There is potential that China was gathering information, but not much because of what they [China] can already do with satellites,” he said. “It’s normal for countries to seek intelligence on one another and in this instance, someone got caught.”

Spy balloons seized the public’s attention last month, first when the Chinese balloon was spotted, then when three other balloons were seen over the western U.S. and Canada. The U.S. shot down all four and some members of Congress have voiced concern about the incidents, even questioning the military’s effectiveness. China has said the balloon was an unmanned civilian airship that went off course. 

Ouyang said the military’s action has impacted international relations.

“It’s definitely adding to the tension between the two nations, but I think the political rhetoric surrounding the situation plays a large role,” said Ouyang. “Politicians want to appear strong and take a strong stance.

“The rhetoric has an effect on the public because it is a serious incident and the public expects someone to do something,” he said. “If people … make it a big deal it could escalate, and some politicians might want it to.”

Ouyang believes dialogue needs to happen if tensions are to decrease.

“Talk between … leaders … could help, but the rhetoric around the situation needs to match that agenda,” said Ouyang.

Second-year Political Science major Angelica Marquez said she fears the U.S. reaction to the balloon may lead to bigger problems than the balloon itself.

“I think the U.S. tried to present itself as powerful by shooting down the balloon and showing a flex of muscle,” she said. “The U.S. has to be careful. … If we are so powerful, why are we scared so much about a balloon. … I think that looks negative.”

She said people in both China and the U.S. may try to use the balloon incident to their benefit.

“I think China is trying to like frame this in their media as the U.S. overreacting,” said Marquez. “Anything we would have done China would frame it in a negative light to make us look silly.

“I don’t know if the response was too much or too little,” she said. “I don’t think any decisions the president made would have ended without controversy because the nation is so divided right now.”

Marquez believes the United States’ relationship with China should be more intimate.

“The U.S. and China … need to respect one another,” she said. “The relationship between us and China needs to be the least diplomatic.”