Republican Lawmakers See Balloon as ‘Wake up Call’ for Americans on Chinese Surveillance

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
February 15, 2023US News
Republican Lawmakers See Balloon as ‘Wake up Call’ for Americans on Chinese Surveillance
A high-altitude balloon floats over Billings, Mont., on Feb. 1, 2023. (Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via AP)

Republican lawmakers said the Chinese high-altitude balloon’s recent passage over the United States was a chance to raise awareness in America about the prevalence of China’s surveillance efforts.

“This balloon episode can have a silver lining, and that silver lining is that I hope this is a wake-up call for all of American society and across our government that we are undergoing a tidal wave of Chinese espionage,” Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) told NTD.

Waltz, who served as a U.S. Army Green Beret and now sits on the House Armed Services Committee, said most instances of Chinese surveillance against the United States involve actions that the average American cannot see, such as disruptions in cyberspace and acquisitions of key technology and research. While those examples are “behind the scenes,” Waltz said an incident like the high-altitude balloon crossing over “our most sensitive military sites” was “an in-your-face move by the Chinese Communist Party.”

Waltz’s colleague, Rep. Mike Flood (R-Neb.) agreed that the balloon incident helped raise U.S. awareness of their vulnerability to Chinese surveillance.

“I do think that something as simple as a balloon was able to catch the attention of the American people. And I think the threat that the Chinese Communist Party poses to Americans became really obvious over that weekend,” Flood said.

The balloon’s flight path affected Flood’s district directly.

The balloon passed over Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska on Feb. 2 as it flew eastward across the United States. Offutt Air Force Base is home to the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), which is tasked with detecting and deterring attacks against the United States and its allies, including nuclear strikes.

“I represent the first district of Nebraska, home to STRATCOM, where we really command the nation’s nuclear triad,” Flood said. “And we have a balloon surveilling us from our enemies in China. And it seems to be lost that they are, you know, basically, brazenly attempting, and I think, are successful in getting as much data as they can about our sensitive military sites.”

CCP Grooming Americans, Flood Says

Like Waltz, Flood noted more innocuous examples of Chinese surveillance and influence efforts against the United States.

Flood said some of the behaviors are designed to “groom” the American public to be desensitized or accepting of narratives promoted by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). He pointed to the example of TikTok as one Chinese avenue for influencing Americans that “seems innocuous.”

“They’re building a relationship with teenagers and young adults and young Americans, and they’re going to cultivate that relationship for 10 years, and longer,” Flood said. “Let’s imagine something happens in Taiwan. The first thing they’re going to do is they’re going to attempt to influence the opinions of Americans after they take or make a brazen act. Everything they’re doing is grooming Americans for their control, you know; not tomorrow, not next week, but down the road.”

Flood expressed concerns over the Chinese regime’s human rights record and its efforts to buy up land neighboring U.S. military installations, among other issues.

“There are issues across the spectrum that we need to work on. I think this is bigger than a balloon,” Flood said. “But thank God the balloon got the attention of the American people.”

Changing US Posture on China

The U.S. military shot down the balloon after it transited the United States and flew out over the Atlantic Ocean on Feb. 4. That day, a reporter asked President Joe Biden if it was always his position that the United States would shoot down Chinese surveillance balloons, or if he came to that decision after the balloon caught widespread public attention.

“It was always my position. Once it came over the—into the United States from Canada, I told the Defense Department I wanted to shoot it down as soon as it was appropriate,” Biden said.

The Biden administration has said this balloon incident has also led the United States and Canada to work more closely to enhance radar capabilities to detect other objects entering North American airspaces.

Waltz told NTD the United States should have been prepared to shoot the balloon down when it was over the Pacific Ocean, before it passed over the country.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled plans to visit his Chinese counterpart over the balloon incident. A State Department official said the incident was “a clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law, and it is unacceptable that this has occurred.”

Waltz said that if Blinken does decide to visit with his Chinese counterpart, he needs to be prepared to confront China on violations of U.S. sovereignty.

“It needs to be a message of strength, and it needs to be a message of deterrence and one of consequences,” Waltz said.

Waltz said if Blinken doesn’t confront China and instead simply focuses on areas that the Biden administration still hopes to work with China, like climate change, it will be at the expense of U.S. national security and “the Chinese are going to use that as leverage to get concessions in other areas that they care about.”

Lawmakers in the House of Representatives created a new panel to address the growing conflicts between the United States and China, called the House Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the United States and the CCP. The panel was formed with the support of all Republicans and the majority of Democrats in the House.

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