Sir Alex Younger, former head of the MI6, declared on Tuesday that the recent spy balloon incident has revealed a lack of trust between the United States and the Chinese communist regime. He noted that Beijing has underestimated the potential impact of the event. Since February 4th, the U.S. and Canadian military have shot down a Chinese balloon and three other flying objects in North American airspace, while another Chinese balloon has been spotted over Latin America. The Chinese government claimed the balloons were civilian weather balloons, and later alleged that U.S. balloons had flown past China more than 10 times since last year. The White House, however, denied this allegation.
National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby stated at a press conference on February 13th that China has a high-altitude balloon program for intelligence collection that is connected to the People’s Liberation Army. He added that the Chinese surveillance balloons have crossed over dozens of countries on multiple continents, including the closest allies and partners of the United States, but they are hard to detect and thus were not picked up by previous administrations or other countries.
When asked on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme whether the incident is a “really serious moment” in the U.S.-China relationship and the relationship between Beijing and the West, Younger said it is “regrettably” the case. He explained that Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s speech last week, in which he spoke of the so-called “Chinese style modernisation” that “shattered the myth of ‘modernisation equals Westernisation,'” has made it very clear that he sees China’s path as been different and is risking the interdependence between China and the West. Younger noted that this is inevitably creating a reaction from the West, with the United States also seeing risks in the ever-high interdependence.
Younger said he believes the Chinese regime has made a “deep mistake” underestimating the impact of the incident. He added that Xi’s Global Security Initiative is about promoting China’s role in safeguarding the indivisible rights and interconnected security of developing countries, but the balloon incident is a “gross and really visible transgression of the sovereignty of many nations” that flies “absolutely in the face” of the GSI narrative.
British Defence Secretary on Sunday said the UK and its allies will review the security implications of the Chinese balloons, calling the development “another sign of how the global threat picture is changing for the worse.” Younger stated that the West, particularly the United States, will “rightly take the opportunity to point out the manifest hypocrisy” that the balloon program involves and will be “politically motivated to make a big fuss and I think that’s sensible.” He added that Britons must recognize when there is a competition, respond to it, make themselves stronger, and find ways of transcending the inevitable risks that come out of the confrontation.