Title media by
Taylie Kawakami

Graphic illustrated by Taylie Kawakami and designed by Lina Petronino.

A wayward weather balloon flying over the continental United States was shot down by the U.S. government on Feb. 4, initiating a circus of anti-China hysteria in American media. 

According to the Pentagon, the “spy balloon” was one in a series of Chinese air balloons conducting surveillance over the United States. After monitoring the balloon for a week following its initial sighting on Jan. 28, an F-22 fighter fired an air-to-air missile that took it down six miles off the South Carolina coast. 

A statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs emphasized the balloon was not being used to spy, however.

 “It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological purposes. Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course,” the statement said. “The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into U.S. airspace due to force majeure.” 

Mainstream media sources throughout the United States have disregarded the official Chinese statement, instead pushing a dramatized narrative where China is gaining information on the United States in preparation for potential acts of aggression. 

The New York Times, for example, published a series of articles on how the alleged spy balloon was part of a “global surveillance fleet,” that threatens U.S. national security. One headline read, “Balloon Incident Reveals More Than Spying as Competition With China Intensifies.” 

Numerous congressional members chimed in on the media outrage, with the House of Representatives voting 419-0 in favor of a Feb. 9th resolution condemning China over the balloon. 

In response to media portrayal of the balloon as an act of Chinese espionage, officials representing the People’s Republic of China, such as Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat, accused the United States of creating unnecessary hostility between the two nations through their “hysterical” and “absurd” coverage. 

“This is a misguided perception of China, and with this perception, the United States is using all of its means to smear and clamp down China, and is co-opting other countries to do the same,” Yi said. “There are many balloons from many countries in the sky. Do you want to down each and every one of them?” 

In reality, the distorted coverage over the Chinese balloon is part of a longstanding U.S. initiative to manufacture consent amongst the U.S. public for a war against China.

The world’s second largest economy, China is fundamentally viewed as an existential threat to the United States as it remains on the path of socialist development. The “China threat” remains bipartisan, with both the Democratic and Republican parties portraying China as an imperialist, antagonistic nation that has long-term plans to destroy the United States. 

With China flourishing under a different political model, the U.S. government uses every chance it can to bash the PRC, including through the use of state-sanctioned initiatives. 

The America COMPETES Act, a federal bill meant to “combat Chinese disinformation,” was signed into law Aug. 2022 and aims to fund “independent” journalism encouraging criticism of China in global markets. 

The bill effectively made anti-China propaganda into a $500 million industry, allocating a majority of the funds to the U.S. Agency for Global Media, known to censor and suppress its own journalistic voices challenging the agency’s pro-American propaganda. 

As U.S. media continues to churn out anti-China content in what journalist Ana Swanson called “the new red scare,” U.S. officials are spurring on preparations for war by portraying China as increasingly hostile.

Top U.S. leaders have begun to warn Americans the nation is on the brink of war with China, despite Chinese leaders advocating for peaceful relations.  

General Mike Minihan warned China and the United States will enter a war by 2025, offering no tangible evidence besides a “gut feeling.” 

Officials like Minihan believe waging war against China is necessary in preserving U.S. hegemony and preventing the yuan from becoming the ‘new global currency.’  

Chinese journalist Chen Weihua of the China Daily spoke against the American portrayal of the balloon. 

“The reasons for the intensifying U.S. propaganda war are obvious. Washington views a fast-rising China as a challenge to its primacy around the world,” said Weihua. “The success of a country with a different political system is unacceptable to politicians in Washington.”

Warmongering against China is an exclusively American approach when it comes to U.S.-China relations, however, as Chinese officials have explicitly stated they wish to remain conflict-free. 

Mao Ning, the spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, urged both parties to remain calm following the balloon incident, emphasizing China’s hopes of  “mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation.”  

Despite China repeatedly affirming their desire for a positive relationship with the United States, U.S. politicians have united in a bipartisan effort to render China an existential threat. 

It is for this reason that something as simple as a weather balloon going off-course raises alarms all across the United States. The U.S. government, as well as the media, takes any chance they can to demonize China.

Even considering this in a pragmatic sense, why would China opt for uncontrollable balloons to conduct espionage, when they have high-quality satellites resting 300 miles above the Earth? Perhaps it is because the United States used spy balloons identical in size to the Chinese balloon to spy over the USSR and China in 1956

Top U.S. officials relied on minimal evidence to build their case of alleged espionage, with one defense official even saying the Pentagon did not think the balloon would provide any added value for the Chinese government.

While China allegedly flew a “spy balloon” over the United States, the United States has military bases completely surrounding China. There are eight total Chinese foreign bases, opposed to the U.S., which has established 313 bases in East Asia alone. 

The balloon frenzy is not occurring in a vacuum, but rather in the midst of heightened U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region to “counter” the growing influence of China. 

U.S. military policy, as pursued in cooperation with other imperialist powers such as Japan, seeks to defend a “free and open” Indo-Pacific, as the region possesses “strategic value,” according to the White House. For this reason, more members of the U.S. military are based in the Indo-Pacific region than in any other international locality. 

U.S. presence in Asia has only grown under the Biden administration, with Biden increasing funding for allied Asian nations and expanding bases across the Pacific. 

A Feb. 2 announcement declared the United States has gained access to four more sites in the Philippines to store more weapons and conduct military operations, under the Armed Forces of the Philippines, or AFP, agreement. This amounts to a total of nine bases in the southeast Asian nation, making it the first time in 30 years that the United States has such a significant military presence in the country. 

The newly approved bases will most likely be established near Taiwan and Luzon, near the South China Sea, according to defense reports. Strategic positioning of bases would allow for the United States to deploy surveillance and combat forces if a conflict were to break out between China and the United States over Taiwan. 

U.S. military intervention has invaded numerous independent nations to combat socialist politics throughout the 20th century. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the United States has sharpened their focus on China, the newest rapidly industrializing, pro-socialist nation. Maintaining a western alliance network with the neighboring nations of China is central to preserving the hegemony of American capitalism; hence why the U.S. government has increased military presence in South Korea, Japan, the Philippines and Guam. 

As U.S. media continues to glorify the expansion of the military for the sake of ‘exporting democracy’ and combatting China, neighboring Asian countries have become nothing short of an imperialist battle ground. The modern era of American neo-colonialism continues to threaten the sovereignty and independence of Asian and Pacific nations. 

Pro-imperialist narratives distort mainstream media coverage — including the depiction of an off-course weather balloon as an act of Chinese espionage. This revamped, Cold War rhetoric increases support for hyper aggressive policy towards the PRC and enables sinophobia within the United States.   

Neither the people of China nor the United States stand to benefit from a power war. International solidarity with China, in cooperation with the dismantling of the United States’ empire, is essential in building a revolutionary working-class movement and reckoning with capitalist militarism.