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Ballooning ChinaDiction #78
It's pointless pretending there's anything else to talk about on the subject of China, so let's talk balloons ... and UFOs ...
Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recover a Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Feb 5, 2023. Photo: US Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tyler Thompson via WikiCommons.
First things first – before we get to the US aerial shooting spree and the counter-accusations from China – what does the US Department of Defense have to say?
John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council in the White House, speaking to the media yesterday (Monday) said:
‘We were able to determine that China has a high-altitude balloon program for intelligence collection that's connected to the People’s Liberation Army. It was operating during the previous administration, but they did not detect it. We detected it. We tracked it. And, we have been carefully studying it to learn as much as we can …
‘We know that these [Chinese] surveillance balloons have crossed over dozens of countries on multiple continents around the world, including some of our closest allies and partners."
Reading between the lines, it seems likely that the US knew about the balloons for quite some time, but it took a high-profile event like this one – which involved media attention amid an upcoming high-level visit to China by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken – to do something about it.
In this case, according to a New York Times (paywall) report, the US had been tracking the surveillance device since it left Hainan Island in late January.
Meanwhile, it’s an embarrassment for China because there’s too much evidence pointing to surveillance capabilities for Beijing to shrug it off as an errant weather balloon, as it did initially.
A separate New York Times report.
On Thursday, the State Department laid out, in the most detail to date, its view that the balloon was part of a global surveillance fleet directed by China’s military. American officials have also said that they have shared information on the espionage program with dozens of countries, and are weighing measures against Chinese companies or other bodies that may have been involved.
The initial reaction in the US has been, inevitably, increased aerial scanning for high-altitude mystery objects and trigger-finger reactions to them.
Bloomberg (paywall) reports how “US fighter jets brought down objects over Alaska and Canada on Friday and Saturday, and another was taken down on Sunday over Lake Huron in Michigan.”
With shootdowns over the US and Canada coming at a pace of one per day, the incidents prompted renewed pledges by lawmakers in Washington to seek greater US readiness against the overflights and a measure of bipartisan praise for the Biden administration’s military actions.
China’s not simply been shouting out “hurt feelings!”
In fact, at one point, Beijing said it was ready to shoot down a mystery object detected flying near the port city of Qingdao, reports Bloomberg, which notes that the city is …
… home to the Jianggezhuang Naval Base … [and] hosts ballistic and nuclear attack submarines, the country’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, and is the command headquarters of the country’s North Sea Fleet.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that China has retaliated with balloon-intrusion accusations of its own – 10 of them! That’s how many it claims the US has floated over Chinese airspace since 2022.
China’s Defense Ministry said it refused a call from US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in the immediate aftermath of the balloon shooting because the US had “not created the proper atmosphere” for dialogue and exchange, the Associated Press reports.
Bluster and shoot-downs aside, next up is whether the balloon that started the furore had any exported, sensitive Western technology on board and where will the sanctions axe fall next.
According to yet another report:
Chinese spy balloon that traversed the US had western-made components with English-language writing on them, members of Congress were told on Capitol Hill Thursday [last week], people familiar with the matter said.
Biden administration officials briefed lawmakers about the writing behind closed doors, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private information. The officials included representatives from the State and Defense Departments as well as the intelligence community.
The US has already sanctioned six Chinese companies involved in the balloon sector, so we can expect the US to move on Western companies next.
All that and ChinaDiction has failed to mention the Chinese top aeronautics scientist, Wu Zhe, who proudly announced back in 2019, the New York Times has revealed, that “his team had launched an airship more than 60,000 feet into the air and sent it sailing around most of the globe, including across North America.”
The scientist, Wu Zhe, told a state-run news outlet at the time that the “Cloud Chaser” airship was a milestone in his vision of populating the upper reaches of the earth’s atmosphere with steerable balloons that could be used to provide early warnings of natural disasters, monitor pollution or carry out airborne surveillance.
On the same note – exactly the same note – The Wire China has an excellent piece on Wu Zhe that is highly recommended: “The Balloon Scientist and His Financier.”
So much to digest: ChinaDiction is only going to take a stand on one issue: all the talk of UFOs; yes, the US is dealing with some unidentified flying objects, but we stand firm with The Drive, which has a fascinating article on balloons, drones and UFOs.
It’s far too long to sum up here, but the title says it all:
“Adversary Drones Are Spying On The U.S. And The Pentagon Acts Like They’re UFOs.”
Take that, everyone secretly wishing for a war with extraterrestrials.
And just 10 hours after all the above, breaking: Hey, maybe that balloon really was blown off-course by unanticipated air currents:
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Xinjiang governor in UK?
The British Foreign Office last week shocked supporters of oppressed Uyghurs in China by revealing that it has asked the governor of Xinjiang – former East Turkestan – for talks, according to the The Guardian.
MPs belonging to the inter-parliamentary alliance on China (Ipac) called it ‘incomprehensible’ that ‘anybody within government would think it appropriate to meet with someone who has played a central role in the persecution of Uyghurs – crimes our own parliament has declared to be genocide.’
According to an email from the Foreign Office, Erkin Tuniyaz – who has been sanctioned by the US – is planning to visit the UK next week, followed by trips to other European countries to meet ‘stakeholders’ to ‘discuss the situation in Xinjiang.’
In an update by The Guardian on Saturday, former Conservative party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith has called for the Xinjiang governor to be arrested for crimes against humanity if he arrives on UK soil.
The Greater Sinosphere
Cambodia’s Hun Sen in China meeting CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping. Photo: Xinhua.
Multiple news sources reported that Cambodia “strongman,” Prime Minister Hun Sen ended a three-day visit to Beijing, where he met CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping, on Saturday.
As The China Project puts it:
Hun Sen’s three-day trip … was a genuine win-win meeting for both him and Xi — but not necessarily for the average Cambodian. Upon his return to Phnom Penh, it appeared that Hun Sen, Asia’s longest-ruling leader, felt his hand had been strengthened by his trip. On his first full day home today, he ordered the shutdown of Voice of Democracy [VOD], a bilingual Khmer-English radio station and website in Cambodia that is among the last of the major independent outlets there.
VOD, which has some 2 million followers on Facebook, has long been a thorn in Hun Sen’s side – as were many other now-banished local media outlets. It was shut down, according to the South China Morning Post, for reporting that that it was Hun Sen’s eldest son, Lieutenant General Hun Manet, who approved financial aid to earthquake-ravaged Turkey, not his prime minister father.
Hun Manet has denied the allegation.
Hun Sen – who has supported Hun Manet to succeed him in the future – stated he signed off on the US$100,000 foreign ministry aid package.
Many regional commentators have long held that Hun Sen sees China as an essential buffer against possible Western sanctions over human rights and freedom of speech abuses and the move against VOD so promptly after his return from China suggests that he has that assurance.
US renews warning to China
The disputed South China Sea – not much to look at but it could spark WWIII. Photo: Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center via WikiCommons.
ABC News (US) reports that the US again warned China that it will defend the Philippines, a treaty partner, if trouble in the contested South China Sea leads to conflict.
The warning came after “after a Chinese coast guard ship allegedly hit a Philippine patrol vessel with military-grade laser that briefly blinded some of its crew.”
The incident took place Feb. 6. when the Chinese coast guard ship beamed high-grade lasers to block the Philippine patrol vessel BRP Malapascua from approaching Second Thomas Shoal on a resupply mission to Filipino forces there, according to Philippine officials.
Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr summoned the Chinese Ambassador in Manila today (Tuesday) to express serious concern “over the increasing frequency and intensity of actions by China against the Philippine coast guard and fishermen," Communications Secretary Cheloy Garafil said without elaborating.
You think you got balloon problems?
Yes, that’s that Chinese balloon over the US again, but Taiwan officials say they get them all the time. Photo: Chase Doak; WikiCommons.
In a roundabout confirmation (via the other side of the world) that Chinese surveillance balloons have been drifting far and wide for years, Taiwanese officials told the Financial Times that Chinese balloons are frequent visitors to Taiwanese airspace, though they generally fly much lower than the recent surveillance balloon that was shot down over the US.
‘They come very frequently, the last one just a few weeks ago,’ said a senior Taiwanese official. Another person briefed on the matter said such incursions were happening on average once a month.
Previously, Taiwan’s defence ministry had only confirmed one incident in February last year, in which multiple Chinese balloons in four batches loitered over the north of the country.
Other countries in the region, including Japan and the Philippines, have observed balloon incursions into their airspace, but their governments have given little detail.
US special China committee may visit Taiwan
A US House special committee on China is considering sending a delegation to Taiwan, according to Nikkei Asia.
Rep. Rob Wittman, a Virginia Republican and a senior member on the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, told Nikkei that he and other members of the committee are exploring a trip to Taiwan.
‘We know that will infuriate the Chinese,’ Wittman said. ‘But I think it's incredibly important for us to do that, because you have to send the signal that we're strongly on the side of Taiwan.’
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has indicated that he will visit Taiwan as did his predecessor, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who traveled to Taiwan in August.
‘I don't think China can tell me where I can go at any time, at any place,’ McCarthy said.
Chinese officials disinvited from Buddhist funeral
Taiwan’’s Mainland Affairs Council. Photo: VOA via WikiCommons.
The Chinese-language, pro-Taiwan Liberty Times last week published a list of Chinese officials who had allegedly applied to be present for the funeral service of Hsing Yun (Xīng Yún, 星雲), an eminent Buddhist master with influence on both sides of the Strait who passed away last week at the age of 95 as reported in Friday’s ChinaDiction
It was yet another somewhat odd move by the KMT, which reportedly was organizing visits by six officials from the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, four from the United Front Work Department, three officials from the Taiwan Affairs Office of Jiangsu Province and former former Director of China’s Religious Affairs Bureau, Ye Xiaowen, whom an angry Tseng Wei-chen in the tweet above calls “a world-class scum who is sanctioned by many countries.”
Exiled Tiananmen Square student leader Wang Dan said, "This kind of human rights villain talking about humanitarianism is simply [like] a bandit discussing respect for other people's property."
By Sunday, Taiwan media, including the English language Taipei Times were reporting that the China delegation’s trip had been canceled. Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council stated that it was a case of China “exploiting” the funeral of Master Hsing Yun.
‘Improving’ ancient mosques with renovations
Xining (Qinghai Province) Dongguan Grand Mosque, before (left) and after ‘renovation.’ Photo: CCTV 13 screen-grab via Reddit.
It turns out this China SubReddit post is old news, if a report in The Print from mid-2021 is to be believed.
The Print reported that “the discovery was made by Christina Scott, UK’s Deputy Mission Head in China …
… who noted that the 14th century Dongguan Great Mosque did not resemble the photograph in her four-year-old guide book.
“My (4 yr old) guide book getting out of date. Go to the Dongguan Great Mosque, it advises. So I do. Closed for renovations (which seem to have included removing the dome and minarets – photo from street-side of building in book),” tweeted Scott.
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