Chinese state-run media has waged a propaganda blitz to alter the narrative on its spy balloon that recently flew over the United States. Such outlets are alleging that the balloon in fact was not used for spying, and even if it was, it wasn’t China’s balloon. The CCP-run media also claims that the US is lying about the issue, while China is acting in good faith. Additionally, China’s state-run media uses the incident to quickly deflect away from any responsibility for China, and to criticize and gaslight the US.
Claim #1: The balloon was not used for spying, and if it was, it wasn’t China’s balloon
Whatever the balloon was, it certainly wasn’t a spy balloon, according to China’s state-run media. China “confirmed” that the balloon was a “civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes” that made an “unintended” entry into US airspace due to “Westerlies” and a “limited self-steering capability,” according to China Daily. Other sources like Xinhua obliquely dismiss the incident as a “chance occurrence.”
And if the object was a spy balloon, then it wasn’t used by China, according to Chinese state-run media. For example, according to a China Daily article, the photo taken of the balloon is “unclear…and features no sign linking it to China.” That article also stated that “the technology is outdated one can hardly imagine any nation like China still resorting to it today.”
Claim #2: The US is speculating, and even lying, about the nature of the balloon
China’s state-run media assert that the US media and defense establishment are misrepresenting the nature of the spy balloon. According to a China Daily article, US allegations that the balloon is a spy balloon is a “conspiracy theory” and a “lie.” One Global Timesarticle states that US assertions that China was using the balloon to spy on the US was “not backed by concrete proof.” Another Global Times article claimed the US military and media were accusing China of espionage “[b]efore being clear of the facts.” That same article claimed that calling the object a spy balloon was “groundless speculation” and “hype.”
Claim #3: China is acting in good faith
China, on the other hand, is acting in good faith to resolve the misunderstanding, according to Chinese state-run media. According to Global Times, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has pledged that China “will continue communicating with the US to properly handle the unexpected situation…” China “urges communication to avoid misjudgment” reads a headline in another Global Times article. The article further goes on to cite Wang Yi, director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Central Committee, as incredulously stating that “China is a responsible country and has always strictly abided by international law.” A China Daily editorial on the incident stated flatly that “China cherishes its relationship with the US, and that goodwill should be met in kind.”
Claim #4: The US is using the balloon issue to pressure China
China state-run media craftily deflects all responsibility for the incident from China, and instead claims that the US is using the issue to pressure China. One Global Times article asserted that the US was taking advantage of the incident to allow “some hawkish anti-China lawmakers a chance to attack China…”and to foment “anti-China sentiment fanned by some politicians out of selfish interest.” Another Global Times article stated that the incident was an “old trick of exerting extreme pressure on China…in an attempt to gain more bargaining chips.” The article castigated the US of having used the incident to “bring new tensions to China-US relations as a follow-up to more intensive US moves to contain China in the fields of military, technology, and diplomacy, and also on issues of China’s core concerns, including on the island of Taiwan.”
China’s state-run media also portray the incident as the US attempting to undermine from a more stable relationship with China. For example, a China Daily editorial states that the US drawing attention to the balloon “…makes one doubt its sincerity in putting bilateral relations back on a healthy track,” and that “[b]y sensationalizing the supposed threat of the ‘surveillance balloon’, US media and politicians are damaging Sino-US relations.”
Another tactic of China’s state-run media is to spin the incident as a “teachable moment” for the United States. For example, “analysts” cited by Global Times castigated “the US to be more sincere in fixing relations with China instead of making provocative actions against it” in the wake of the incident. According to another Global Times article, it is the US, not China, that needs to make amends: “The Biden administration should demonstrate true political leadership to handle relations with China for the benefits of the two peoples, instead of letting the balloon incident or other unexpected events impede…bilateral exchanges…”
Through its state-run media, China has been able to deflect responsibility away from the spy balloon incident, and instead use the incident to attack the United States. China’s misrepresentation of the incident will likely foreshadow greater tensions between China and US relations in the future.
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