Foreign PolicyForeign Policy

The U.S. overreacted to the Chinese spy balloon. That scares me

By Howard W. French

13 Feb 2023 · 5 min read

Editor's Note

Whether its spy balloons or TikTok, the U.S. mindset toward China is so filled with panic that level-headed policymaking "seems almost like an impossible dream," argues a columnist for FP.

With the aperture gradually widening on the recent incident involving the transit of U.S. airspace by a Chinese balloon, providing ever more information to the public about Beijing’s intelligence-gathering capabilities, this might seem like a peculiar time to amplify the response that some people had to the craft’s early sightings: Calm down.

The Chinese balloon incursion needs to be understood in two strongly contrasted ways though, and only one of them has received much focus: What does this tell us about Beijing today? That question is fairly easy to answer—so easy, in fact, that the best interpretation I’ve seen so far came from a comedian not particularly known for her deep insights into U.S.-China relations. “And by the way: China, if you’re listening—which, you obviously are—next time, why don’t you make your balloon the color blue so we can’t see it in the sky,” Chelsea Handler joked on The Daily Show.

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