A high altitude balloon floats over Billings, Mont., on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. The U.S. is tracking a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that has been spotted over U.S. airspace for a couple days, but the Pentagon decided not to shoot it down due to risks of harm for people on the ground, officials said Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. (Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via AP)
The Pentagon says it’s considering its options about a Chinese spy-balloon caught at high altitude above a nuclear site in Montana, explaining that it's too dangerous for people on the ground to shoot it down.“This is unacceptable,” said Pentagon Press Secretary and Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder said about the excursion over U.S. territory. “We're monitoring and reviewing options.”
Ryder did say the balloon wasn’t dangerous to U.S. citizens on the ground.“At this time we have assessed that this does not pose a threat to people on the ground,” he said.The spy balloon controversy forced Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to cancel a scheduled trip to China in protest. Beijing said the balloon wasn’t meant to spy on its assumed American targets, but was blown off course by wind.
The news comes as the Department of Defense is expanding its footing in the Pacific after agreeing to a deal with the Philippines to place additional U.S. troops at bases in the country in what many see as a growing pivot to counter Chinese aggression in the region. The new deal builds on the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with their regional ally, initially agreed in 2014, which already allowed for thousands of U.S. soldiers to be stationed in five bases in the Philippines. The new agreement allows for American soldiers to occupy an additional four bases in the country in what many see as a geopolitical play to contain Beijing’s influence in the region and discourage any belligerence towards Taiwan—long considered a potential site of a new conflict with China.“America's commitment to the defense of the Philippines is ironclad,” said Defense Secretary Loyd Austin III in a joint press conference in Manila with Philippine Secretary of National Defense Carlito Galvez. “Our alliance makes both of our democracies more secure and helps uphold a free and open Indo-Pacific, and today, we discussed ways to make this vital alliance even stronger.”
Though Austin was clear the agreement does not mean permanent bases in the Indo-Pacific country, the deal will enhance mutual training exercises between the countries. The Biden Administration has increasingly committed to force projection in the Pacific region as a means to constrain any plans by China to militarize and intimidate allies. The growing number of bases available to U.S. troops builds on new locations in Australia, Guam, and Japan. In January, tensions between Washington and Beijing prompted one U.S. Air Force four-star general to issue a memo to his troops, predicting a new global conflict that is drawing dangerously near.“I hope I am wrong. My gut tells me we’ll fight in 2025,” said General Mike Minihan in January.