On February 2nd, 2023, US authorities announced the presence of a Chinese balloon traveling at high altitude over the state of Montana. Within hours, dramatic headlines blanketed the Western media warning of a “suspected spy balloon,” which the Pentagon said it was monitoring closely. A Chinese Foreign Ministry provided an explanation the following day: a civilian airship used for meteorological research had deviated from its planned course. On February 4th, President Joe Biden said he had ordered the balloon shot down “as soon as possible.” Three days after the Pentagon claims to have first discovered it, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed that an F-22 had downed the balloon over the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of South Carolina.
In these intervening days, as the balloon floated from Montana to the Carolinas, the media with the usual help from the Pentagon speculated breathlessly about the possible nefarious purposes of the aircraft. Perhaps it was collecting information on US communications? Maybe the Chinese had delivered us a balloon booby trap, rigged with explosives! China had already purportedly flown multiple balloons in US airspace, each of them clearly a grave threat to our country’s national security. Beijing condemned Washington’s destruction of the balloon as an “overreaction” to a situation which could easily have been resolved through diplomatic means. The Chinese Foreign Ministry reaffirmed a commitment to its stated principles of “mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation,” while defending the country’s sovereignty and security interests.
It was amusing to witness the United States with the world’s most expensive military fail a stress test involving a single, rogue weather balloon. But the episode also underscored concerning implications for how souring relations between the US and the People’s Republic of China can stall important deconfliction efforts. Anti-China fear-mongering was behind the banning of Huawei technology and our State Department’s faux-concern over a so-called genocide of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, and worsened considerably during the COVID-19 pandemic when President Donald Trump blamed China for the virus. Mainstream media coverage of concomitant public opinion about China has become increasingly negative in recent years.
Not long ago, the US media seemed to largely ignore the rising superpower, notwithstanding the occasional exposé on sweatshops in special administrative regions, perhaps to distract from America’s own expansive system of prison labor. China, meanwhile, managed to thrive even as it adhered to the west’s “rules-based order” by joining organizations such as the WTO, and traded freely with any and all countries, contributing to its rise as an economic superpower. However, in a move the US considers intolerable, China has also ushered in an increasingly multipolar world by helping countries in the Global South break free from western imperialist domination to control and develop their own economies. The US Empire and its vassal states have responded by accusing China of human rights abuses in Xinjiang and “neocolonialism” in Africa, among other alleged wrongdoings. As the criticisms grow more strident and outlandish, we can expect to reach the pinnacle of absurdity when western media condemns Chinese aggression for locating its country so close to American military bases.
The media panic over an evil communist balloon feels familiar to those of us who followed hysterical mainstream media coverage of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. By now, every aspect of the “Russiagate” hoax has been debunked, yet the liberal media still invokes this disinformation to vilify that country and to justify pouring weapons into Ukraine, using its people as cannon fodder in NATO’s proxy war against Russia. Russiagate was the culmination of decades of Russophobia and Cold War propaganda manufacturing consent for war. According to the liberal narrative, an evil Donald Trump colluded with Russia to subvert the democratic process (never mind the well-documented evidence of the DNC rigging the primaries to prevent a Bernie Sanders presidency), therefore rationalizing any aggression against the Russian government and people.
The US normally doesn’t pick fights with global superpowers capable of nuclear warfare. Cuba, for example, has been a target of US aggression ever since the revolution; economic warfare, biological warfare, and disinformation are all fair game against this island which poses minimal threat to US national security. One particularly ridiculous example of anti-Cuba information warfare was the “Havana Syndrome” hoax: the alleged microwave attacks that left US diplomats with hangovers and hearing a mysterious buzzing sound had in fact been caused by a species of cricket that is endemic to the area, contradicting our “intelligence” agencies. Yet the story was too politically expedient to be debunked, and no amount of fact-checking could have deterred bipartisan support for the resulting HAVANA Act providing aid to the victims of supposed Cuban “neurological attacks.”
So the next time you notice headlines across western corporate-controlled media detailing the latest transgression of a supposed enemy of Washington, stop and think before you join in on the media panic. Examine what other countries’ news outlets are saying. Recall how many times the mainstream media has lied to the American people – from throwing babies out of incubators to “pee tapes” involving the former US President. And always remember that slick propagandists, backed either by our State Department or the Military Industrial Complex, will stop at nothing to manufacture our consent for deadly sanctions and endless war.