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Feb 10, 2023 / 11:06

US-China relations after the balloon incident

For the relations between these two countries, it was an incident as good as unprecedented.

For the US, it was right from the beginning that a Chinese spy balloon sailed across its airspace before being shut down near the coast of South Carolina. For China, it was simply only a "civilian airship" conducting climate research which was blown off course.

 Chinese spy balloon entering US airspace. Photo: AP

For the relations between these two countries, it was an incident as good as unprecedented. It occurred just at the time when they have been being already strained by mutual mistrust and tit-for-tat retaliations. It happened just a few days before the visit to China by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the first of a US Secretary of State to China in almost 5 years. Mr. Blinken was set to meet top members of the Chinese leadership, including China's president Xi Jinping. This visit was immediately postponed. Both sides made strong accusations against each other and the Chinese side stated that it will properly retaliate against the US. All that portrayed impressions that the relations between the US and China had just been hit by this incident.

Theoretically, they could be so but in the reality, they won't be so. The postponement of Blinken's China visit didn't automatically mean a fateful setback for the US-China relationship. All statements, announcements, or explanations made by the US and the Chinese sides relating to this incident were mostly for domestic audiences. Even the US which is in a legally a little bit stronger position than China didn't want to make a mountain out of a molehill. US president Joe Biden didn't mention this incident in his State of the Union Address on February 8, just a few days after the incident. Later on, he expressed his belief during a press interview that the US-China relations have not been damaged by the Chinese balloon incident. Or in other words, both the US and China handled the incident like having made a storm in a teacup.

But it might be very meaningful and useful for both. It could be seen as a test for how they would deal with and manage crises. This incident showed that both sides were not properly prepared to manage the crisis. It was a test for how they trust or mistrust each other and showed that their mutual distrust overweights their mutual trust. The balloon incident did not destroy US-China relations but bought the last evidence for the knowledge that now is not the right time for any significant improvements in the relations between the US and China.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by Ambassador Tran Duc Mau are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Hanoi Times.