Suspected spy balloon shot down: what comes next?

The US Air Force shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon over the sea off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday. Beijing insisted that the balloon was merely a civilian climate research tool that had been blown off course, and criticised the US's response as excessive. Europe's press examines potential motives and calls for greater efforts on both sides to avoid an escalation.

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Jelen (HU) /

Debate fuelled by Twitter

Public attention has heightened tensions, writes the liberal weekly Jelen:

“The situation was apparently further aggravated by the coverage of the incident. ... Content on Twitter can trigger a political debate within seconds. Even before concrete information had been made available, Republican politicians were already attacking the government, asking why the balloon had not been shot down, and the government's witch's kitchen had started listing previous incidents under Trump in which Chinese balloons [had entered US airspace] but were not shot down.”

Spotmedia (RO) /

Naivety or a test

Political scientist Valentin Naumescu puzzles over Beijing's motives in Spotmedia:

“Will the Americans find an interesting and compromising piece of Chinese equipment on the seabed of the Atlantic? It would be incredibly naive of China if it really did put sophisticated spying technology into the balloon ... If,on the other hand, there is nothing compromising in the balloon, the thesis remains that the Chinese wanted to test the US's reaction in full knowledge that the balloon would be brought down, to find out when (at what stage) and how (in terms of procedure) the Americans would act.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

Two giants heading for confrontation

The Irish Times worries:

“China-US relations are frosty, both economically and diplomatically. President Biden appears determined to 'decouple' the two great powers' economies, disentangling complex supply chain dependencies to end four decades of gradual integration of China's economy with the West. Washington appears increasingly comfortable with the idea of a long-term economic conflict with Beijing. Nor is China showing any inclination to bend. ... China is itself determinedly heading for further confrontation.”

Večernji list (HR) /

Growing rivalry

This incident has deepened the rifts between the two countries, analyses Večernji list:

“Trump's trade war against China, which the Biden administration has continued and further exacerbated, has spread to other areas in the recent past. The US side recently decided to limit exports of microchip manufacturing equipment to China in order to slow down China's technological advances. There is growing talk of war, especially after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's unexpected visit to Taiwan last year and President Biden's announcement that Taiwan would be defended in the event of a Chinese invasion.”

Reflex (CZ) /

China tripping itself up

This is not an isolated incident, Reflex points out:

“The balloon that was shot down also hung in Canadian airspace for a time, and another very similar balloon can be seen over South America. A similar incident occurred when the Trump administration was in office but went unnoticed by the public. And thanks to such excesses the potential de-escalation of relations between America and China has been postponed indefinitely. For years, China has complained about being bullied by the West. But that's because it can't let five minutes go by without doing something you just don't do in a modern society.”

Handelsblatt (DE) /

Heed the lessons from the Cuban Missile Crisis

Handelsblatt's China correspondent Sabine Gusbeth warns:

“Some experts already feel reminded of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. At that time there was the threat of a nuclear war between the US and the Soviet Union. Such an escalation between the nuclear powers US and China must be avoided at all costs. The lessons learned from the Cuban Missile Crisis could help to defuse the current conflict: communication channels must be kept open at all cost to prevent further escalation. The cancellation of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's planned trip to Beijing was therefore wrong. Especially if it's true that China's head of state and party leader Xi Jinping had already agreed to a meeting.”

The Economist (GB) /

Find better ways to communicate

The Economist calls for robust communications channels:

“That China spies on America, and vice versa, is no secret. The intelligence-gathering value of the balloon was limited, as even the Pentagon concedes. This matters, because when a rivalry grows as intense as that between America and China, small incidents risk relations spiralling out of control. ... With luck the balloon incident will not escalate. But something else like it could. ... If Messrs Biden and Xi do not want relations to be determined by accidents, errors and misunderstandings, they need to find better ways to communicate.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Blinken should make that trip to Beijing soon

Der Standard calls for damage limitation:

“Both sides are staging a major geopolitical conflict in which there can only be one winner. This stance not only destroys a relationship that has been fruitful for both sides for decades, but also causes political and economic damage worldwide. ... On the political level there is hope that the conflict - unlike the one with Russia - will remain just noise. It would be a positive sign if US Secretary of State Antony Blinken were to make the trip to Beijing after all soon. For the global economy, the signs are not so good. The economic cold war between the US and China will make everyone poorer.”