The New York TimesThe New York Times

In its push for an intelligence edge, China's military turned to balloons

By Chris Buckley and Amy Chang Chien

09 Feb 2023 · 6 min read

Editor's Note

The balloon shot down off the shore of the U.S. was likely operated by China's "Strategic Support Force," a secretive arm of the Chinese military involved in global surveillance, reports The NYT.

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Long before an unmanned Chinese airship floating over the United States grabbed the world’s attention, Taiwan may have glimpsed Beijing’s ambitions to turn balloons — seemingly so old-fashioned and ponderous — into elusive tools of 21st century military power.

Residents in Taipei and elsewhere on the island have spotted and photographed mysterious pale orbs high in the sky at least several times in the previous two years. But few people here, even officials, gave them much thought then. Now, Taiwanese officials are grappling with whether any of the balloons were part of China’s growing fleet of airborne surveillance craft, deployed to gather information from the self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its own.

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