The Balloon Goes Up

Our Dutch correspondent H. Numan sends his take on the Great Spy Balloon Crisis.

The balloon goes up

by H. Numan

The US Air Force shot down a Chinese spy balloon. Yes, it really was a spy balloon. However, there’s more to it than that. This is so mind-bogglingly stupid that words almost fail me. Even worse, it opens the door to a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

Let’s start with the latter. Earlier I wrote an article about why the CPC (Communist Party of China) will not invade Taiwan. I still stand by that. If China invades or tries to invade Taiwan, the East will turn red indeed. China cannot invade Taiwan, unless it is willing to incur the biggest military losses in world history. Military planners expect China to lose up to a million soldiers trying to get a foothold on the island. That’s just to get there. After that it will get even more nasty.

There are many nations with the capability to build a nuke within weeks, Taiwan being just one of them. If, for example, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and many other nations were to feel the need, they can do that. They don’t, because they have other priorities. However, if push comes to shove, Taiwan may very well build one. As a parting gift to Beijing. If they are going to be exterminated — something that China repeatedly suggested — why not go out with a bang?

I don’t want to discuss the nuke issue here. This is just one scenario that might happen. The crux of the matter is that at this moment China is so badly managed that the risk of losing a million soldiers in a vainglorious and likely doomed invasion might be possible. China is no longer a one-party state, but a one-leader state.

Xi Jinping has more power than Mao attached to himself. Far worse: he has surrounded himself with yes-men only. Anyone not toeing the line disappears. That’s how great leaders consolidate power. First he removed all opposition. Then anyone within his faction who might pose a threat to succeed him. He accomplished that, and is now surrounded by worshipers or people who just do what they are told. Effectively, China is not governed by its government, but by Xi Jinping only.

The balloon incident is a result of that. The people who launched the balloon (air force) didn’t tell anyone, not even the foreign affairs department. China is very busy expanding its nuclear missile capacity. Until recently they had a few hundred missiles. China wants to play in the big leagues, and that means having a much larger nuclear arsenal. The problem is that they don’t have the necessary infrastructure. That is a problem, and problems are to be solved.

So someone got the bright idea of launching a huge spy balloon to go see how the Americans did it. The general was bright enough to not tell anyone; that might spoil the fun. If he could present the images and information directly to Winnie the Pooh himself (the nickname of Xi Jinping; he hates it) it might earn him a marshal’s baton. It must have been a general, and a high-ranking one at that, because brigadiers or lower cannot make those kinds of decisions.

The balloon is about 100 meter in diameter, with a gondola under it the size of a passenger aircraft, a Fokker Friendship, or ATR 72-sized. That’s pretty big, many times bigger than any weather balloon. It also had some propellers. Not for navigation — the balloon was too big for that — but to maneuver the gondola a bit.

We don’t know when the US spotted the balloon. That’s classified. Perhaps it was observed in Chinese airspace when it reached the stratosphere. Rest assured it was observed long before it reached US airspace. What to do wasn’t a question either. Shoot it down, when it entered US airspace. The only question was: where.

The problem was that the balloon, or rather its gondola, was large and the balloon flew in the stratosphere. Shooting it down over US territory would mean a debris field several kilometers long and wide. Shooting it down over the Gulf of Alaska wasn’t a good idea either. The sea is deep there. The military decided to let the balloon float where it went, and shoot it down over the South Carolina coast, where the water isn’t too deep for recovery.

The ‘how’ wasn’t a problem either. Not that many airplanes can fly that high. Most that can are not armed. The few that are armed and can fly that high have Sidewinders and 30 mm auto cannons, the famous BRRRRRRRRT gun. Using the latter would certainly obliterate the balloon, like shooting with a shotgun. A sidewinder would be less destructive. So, a Sidewinder it was. Salvage operations are ongoing right now. Not that anyone expects to find something spectacular. But, it’s nice to see what the Chinese were trying to see.

Which was not a lot. Americans aren’t stupid, though lots of people seem to think that. The missile launch doors were closed. As simple as that. “Move along folks, nothing to see here.” What they got was what they could get for free on the Internet. Not even a response or reaction before the balloon floated over the coast of the Eastern Seaboard.

What they did get was the reverse of global warming. The relations between China and America were ice cold already. Right now they are as cold as they can possibly get before war. Secretary Blinken was planning to fly to China; he canceled his trip at the last minute. Those visits are planned well in advance. Last-minute cancellations are a huge embarrassment and loss of face for the Winnie the Pooh. The emperor wasn’t caught without clothes. Politically speaking he was caught pole-dancing naked with minors in naughty positions. That serious.

That’s because of the Chinese reaction to this incident. Of course no questions were asked that could give the Chinese a clue how accurate US tracking is. Questions were asked, very politely, through diplomatic channels. Like a high US official asking a Chinese diplomat if he knew anything about a wandering weather balloon. The response was ‘we have no idea what you are talking about’. Probably in all honesty, certainly when the issue was raised.

Very likely the diplomat rushed to a phone to call his superiors, who were equally flabbergasted. Very quick they found out the air force was responsible. But they already denied owning that balloon. To change that story would be loss of face. So they didn’t. They story remained ‘we have no idea what you are talking about’ until the balloon was shot down. Then they change it to ‘American capitalist imperialists have shot down an innocent Chinese weather balloon’.

Not exactly diplomatic, but quite understandable. I see it all the time in Thailand. People go to great lengths avoiding loss of face, but end up loosing much more face in the process. Of course America didn’t accept this kind of response. No one would. They had no choice but to cancel that visit, for starters. With plenty more to come.

The general who ordered the flight is probably no longer alive. At least, I sincerely hope he isn’t for his own good. Winnie the Pooh is not known for his sense of humor or his kind understanding. If saying: ‘I respectfully disagree’ can earn you a bullet, you can imagine what this guy’s fate will be.

Expect more sanctions. No more than just that. Nobody is looking for a world war, certainly not while Putin is busy raping Ukraine, while losing his “special military operation”.

Also consider that we might be living in a very different world had Putin’s plan worked. The two worked together. Putin would postpone invading Ukraine until after the Olympics were finished, which he did. Had the special military operation succeeded — and most everyone believed it would — the West would be presented with a fait accompli. If they didn’t respond, it is more than likely Xi would do the same with Taiwan. Fortunately, the Ukrainian resistance was much stronger than expected. The split of NATO didn’t happen, either. Western sanctions are crippling the Russian economy. Don’t expect those sanctions to do the job alone. Boots on the ground are still required.

What is a nuisance for Russia is deadly for China. The same sanctions are impossible, unless we want to kill half a billion Chinese. About 80% of all Chinese food and energy are imported. Don’t forget China’s economy is export based.

The problem is that we have absolutely no idea what is going on behind the Great Wall. This balloon incident is too crazy for words. Yet, it happened. I’m busy working on a project about WW2. The premise is that Germany, or more generally, the Axis powers, had no hope in hell of winning that war. None whatsoever. Germany could win ‘a’ war, which they did. Just not ‘the’ war. But to war they went, with disastrous results. Partly because of hubris, partly because they either could either surrender or go for broke. They picked going for broke.

China is painfully close to the same choice.

— H. Numan

4 thoughts on “The Balloon Goes Up

  1. @ H. Numan

    Re: “Let’s start with the latter. Earlier I wrote an article about why the CPC (Communist Party of China) will not invade Taiwan. I still stand by that. If China invades or tries to invade Taiwan, the East will turn red indeed. China cannot invade Taiwan, unless it is willing to incur the biggest military losses in world history. Military planners expect China to lose up to a million soldiers trying to get a foothold on the island.”

    I do not know whether your analysis is correct. It may very well be. However, do not mistake the Chinese communists for anything less than the ruthless and amoral tyrants they are. if there is anything the Chinese have always had in abundance, it is people. During the 1960s, some U.S. military brass met with their counterparts for discussions pertaining to Cold War relations.

    I do not now recall the names or even the precise dates of that long ago conference, but do recall the exchange when the subject turned to the possible consequences of attacking the U.S. or her allies in the Pacific. One American general stated that the U.S. could inflict several million casualties (deaths) upon Red China without even putting a serious dent into its nuclear deterrent. Unfazed, the Chinese general replied that those were acceptable losses.

    That was nearly sixty years ago, so it is a valid question whether the present-day Chinese people and leadership still hold that view, but we in the West forget to our peril that the value of human life is not reckoned in the same manner there as it is here.

    The Chi-Coms and the Soviets before them, actually used to clear minefields by simply marching their men through them. If no mine-detection or mine-clearing equipment was available, they’d form up a unit of men from a penal battalion or whatever, and march them right on through the mines. The Soviets tended to use the Mongolians or Siberians for that dirty job as well.

    The men so chosen had no choice; so-called “blocking forces” prevented their retreat. Anyone refusing to move forward upon command was summarily-executed by armed guards at the orders of their political commissar officers.

    If the Communist Chinese indeed do not invade Taiwan, it won’t be because of their unwillingness to sustain casualties. The historical record states emphatically otherwise.

  2. I fully agree, I discussed this in my earlier take on China. China doesn’t care about losing a million soldiers, but the CCP does care – a lot! – about revolts. As China has no old age pension whatsoever, it is up to the ONLY son to provide for his wife, his parents and her parents. A tough job, even in peace time. When the bodybags come back, the parents are going to complain. I mean: really complain. As the government condemns them to death.

  3. I noticed that Herr Numan forgot the huge elephant in the room, Japan! The Japanese who owned Taiwan for over 500 years still own it, for most of the corporations in Taiwan are Japanese run and the Japanese have put billions into the defense of Taiwan including troops, so they are not going to give Taiwan to the red chinks under any circumstance. The Japanese are in the process of a massive military buildup no seen since before WWII.

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