The shooting down on February 4 of a high altitude, large, slow-moving Chinese spy balloon by the US military suggests more than what the observant diplomatic eye can see.
While South Carolina, USA is 14,272 kilometers away from the Philippines, the world has become, in the words of Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan, a global village that events in the former may have some impact in the latter.
China has expressed its “strong dissatisfaction and protest” against the decision, accusing the United States of “overreacting” and “seriously violating international practice.”
But an unnamed US senior defense official has said “Shooting the balloon down addressed the surveillance threat posed to military installations and further neutralized any intelligence value it could have produced, preventing it from returning to the People’s Republic of China.”
China has insisted the balloon is a Chinese civilian unmanned airship that flew into US airspace by mistake, calling it “an accidental incident caused by force majeure.”
If indeed it was an “accidental incident” why did not Beijing inform Washington about the flight by mistake as from Alaska to Montana to show clean hands?
The presence of the balloon was made public on February 1 as it flew above Montana, home to one of three US nuclear missile silo sites.
On the afternoon of February 4, an American F-22 fighter jet finally brought it down with an air-to-air Sidewinder missile over the Atlantic Ocean near South Carolina.
The incident gets close to home as the United States is also in the process of establishing access to two key military bases in Luzon – vital to any operations in the South China Sea where an agreement has been reached for Manila and Washington to have joint patrol in the area.
We remember the United States launched major offensive operations against North Vietnam out of then Clark Air Base, home of the 13th US Air Force, and Subic Bay naval base, homeport at the time of the US Seventh Fleet, during the Vietnam War.
Nearly 63 years ago, on May 1, 1960, an American pilot, Francis Gary Powers, took off from a military airbase in Peshawar, Pakistan, in a top-secret U-2 spy plane to fly 3,000 miles across the Soviet Union, and take high resolution photos of military facilities.
We do not know what’s on the Chinese spy balloon, but experts say there is the probability there are different kinds of cameras collecting different types of information.
These days, imaging is conducted across different regions of the elecromagnetic spectrum, with humans seeing in a certain range of this spectrum, the visible spectrum.
But the cameras can also gather different kinds of information in other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, like the infrared.
If it’s night time, a camera operating in the visible part of the spectrum is not going to show you anything. It’s all going to be dark. But an infrared camera can pick up things from heat in the dark.
We wait for the next few days, or even weeks and months – and hope this will be resolved in favor of peace.