According To The Us, Xi Did Not Know About The Balloon. More Questions Arise

According to the Us, Xi Did Not Know About The Balloon- Washington suspects Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader in decades, was unaware of the balloon’s voyage over the Atlantic on Saturday.

CNN reported that American legislators were briefed Thursday on the assessment, which, if true, may indicate a severe lack of coordination inside the Chinese system at a tense time in China-US relations.

Xi’s knowledge that a balloon was being sent over the US ahead of US Secretary of State Antony Blicken’s visit to Beijing would raise new questions about China’s US policy.

It could imply that Xi and his top aides miscalculated the mission’s consequences and potential to jeopardise Blinken’s visit, which Beijing had welcomed as a way to improve relations.

China claims the balloon was a civilian research airship blown off course and denies a surveillance programme.

According to the Us, Xi Did Not Know About The Balloon. More Questions Arise
According to the Us, Xi Did Not Know About The Balloon. More Questions Arise

Last weekend, Beijing linked the device to “businesses” rather than the government or military, though state-owned corporations and a solid military-industrial complex blur the distinction in China.

A senior State Department official said the US believes the balloon was part of a “PRC fleet of balloons built to perform surveillance operations” that are “often undertaken at the direction of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).” China has “overflown these surveillance balloons over more than 40 countries across five continents,” the official said.

Whether the balloon was civilian or military, its location over the US raises questions about how closely Xi monitors potentially sensitive missions in the massive, top-down Chinese system.

Analysts believe Xi may have known about the balloon’s spying programme but not its daily operations.

According to Singapore-based analyst Drew Thompson, Xi’s level of authority, which he consolidated last October when he started a precedent-breaking third term as Communist Party leader, may have aggravated the problem.

Thompson, a senior research fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, said, “The centralization of power under Xi Jinping is the lack of delegation of authority to lower levels” (NUS).

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He stated that lower-level authorities might not be empowered to monitor such operations or make political judgements about their impact. He added that power disputes between lower and higher-ranking officials could hamper communication.

“There is a conflict across the Chinese system—it’s a feature of Chinese administration, where lower levels struggle for their autonomy and upper levels fight for greater control,” he said.

These conflicts were evident during China’s SARS and COVID-19 pandemics, where reporting delays hampered action and exacerbated the crisis. Some criticised local officials who feared repercussions or were used to top-down information flow.

According to the University of Chicago political scientist Dali Yang, balloon launches could slip into a void where operations were not regulated or overseen, like space or other aircraft missions.

In this situation, businesses flying balloons may have received “little or no pushback from other countries, including the United States” and “increasingly seen such launches as regular based on weather conditions and at moderate costs,” Yang added.

“As a result, while the heads of these initiatives have also gained emboldened over time to test new pathways, it was likely that they didn’t get top priority attention from the perspective of political risk,” he said.

A source familiar with the Thursday briefing to Congress told CNN that Biden officials believed the senior leadership of the People’s Liberation Army and Chinese Communist Party, including Xi, were uninformed of the balloon flight over the US and that China is currently investigating how this happened.

An angle of Washington DC’s US Capitol Building. The curve shows the structure’s enormity.
Washington condemns China over balloon drama.
China’s Foreign Ministry released its first statement more than 12 hours after the Pentagon stated it was tracking a suspected surveillance balloon.

Some top Chinese political watchers doubt that Xi was uninformed of a balloon sent to US airspace or that lower-level officials would perform such a mission that could affect US-China relations without his knowledge.

“Because of his mentality, he wants 100% (control),” said NUS Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy associate professor Alfred Wu. “Xi Jinping doesn’t tolerate that type of autonomy.”

Wu said Xi may have been comfortable with an incident that distracted the attention of a populace frustrated with a faltering economy after years under the newly abolished zero-Covid policy but miscalculated the US domestic response, which led to the postponed discussions.

Beijing claims the US “overreacted” by shooting down the balloon on Saturday.

According to Wu, Washington may attempt to “continue the discourse” initiated between Xi and US President Joe Biden at the G20 summit in Bali by claiming that Xi was unaware of the situation.

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