Biden Defends Actions on Chinese Spy Balloon, Aerial Objects In White House Speech

Wyoming leaders have roundly criticized the president’s response

  • Published In: Politics
  • Last Updated: Feb 17, 2023

In remarks from the White House Thursday, President Joe Biden addressed the recently-downed aerial objects over the U.S., promising that "if any object presents a threat to the safety and security of the American people, I will take it down." (Photo by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

By Jacob Gardenswartz

Special to the Wyoming Truth

WASHINGTON — Nearly two weeks since the U.S. military shot down a Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina, and after three more so-called “unidentified aerial objects” were spotted and downed over North America in recent days, President Joe Biden directly addressed the issue for the first time Thursday, seeking to project strength in the face of fierce criticism of his administration’s response.

In remarks from the White House, Biden stressed that while it’s still unknown exactly what the three recently-downed objects were, “nothing right now suggests they were related to China’s spy balloon program or they were surveillance vehicles from any other country.”

A fighter jet flies near the remnants of a large balloon after it was struck by a missile over the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of South Carolina near Myrtle Beach, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. The downing of the suspected Chinese spy balloon by a missile from an F-22 fighter jet created a spectacle over one of the state’s tourism hubs and drew crowds reacting with a mixture of bewildered gazing, distress and cheering. (Chad Fish via AP)

The decision to take them out was made “out of an abundance of caution,” Biden said, adding that “if any object presents a threat to the safety and security of the American people, I will take it down.” At the present moment, intelligence leaders believe the objects likely originated from private companies or research firms, though investigations remain ongoing.

Biden’s remarks came amid growing criticism of his handling of the episode, with particularly strong condemnations from Wyoming’s congressional delegation in recent days. In a Republican Senate leadership press conference Tuesday, Sen. John Barrasso was blunt in his analysis of the spy balloon incident: “This was a major security breach of the United States and a violation of our airspace. It was deliberate. It was intentional. It was consequential.”

Of Biden, Barrasso alleged that he only shot down the spycraft due to public outcry. “This is a complete violation of our integrity as a nation,” Barrasso said, “and the President’s indifference and inaction showed weakness, not just to China but to the world.”

In his Thursday remarks, Biden sought to push back against the allegation that he was too slow to pull the trigger. “I gave the order to shoot it down as soon as it would be safe to do so,” Biden stressed. Noting the object was the size of “multiple school buses,” Biden said his military advisers suggested he wait to give the order to take it down until it could be done without injuring civilians on the ground.

“We waited until it was safely over water, which would not only protect civilians, but also enable us to recover substantial components for further analytics,” Biden said. The military ultimately downed the object on Feb. 4, a week after it was publicly identified, something Biden said sent “a clear message, clear message: the violation of our sovereignty is unacceptable.”

In an interview with Fox Business on Tuesday after a classified briefing on the topic, Sen. Cynthia Lummis accused the military of being ill-prepared for the incursion: “The American people feel like our military leaders are asleep at the switch,” she said.

Others, such as Rep. Harriet Hageman, suggested the episode hurts America’s global image. “The reality is, on the world stage, Joe Biden is not seen as someone who’s willing to do what it takes to protect American sovereignty,” she recently told Newsmax.

U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), chair of the Senate Republican Conference, speaks during a press conference following the weekly Republican policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 14, 2023. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

Biden, for his part, announced a slew of new actions in the wake of the incidents, including an interagency team to study such objects. The president said Thursday the group would work to develop a better inventory for unmanned airborne objects currently over U.S. airspace, improve technologies to identify such crafts, update the rules for launching such devices and establish global norms for what he described as a “largely unregulated” space.

Some Republicans, Barrasso among them, suggested Biden’s hesitancy to shoot down the Chinese object was, in part, due to his son Hunter’s business relationships with the country; Republicans have launched multiple investigations into the president’s family and his son remains under federal investigation for possible tax crimes, though no charges have been filed.

“I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that he said that after Chinese donors put $61 million into a university to set up a Biden Center,” Barrasso said, noting Biden has spoken previously about seeking to avoid direct conflict with the nation.

Asked by a reporter whether his approach to China was “compromised” by his family’s business relationships, Biden responded simply: “Give me a break, man.” 

The incursion is sure to further complicate U.S.-China relations, already icy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Resolutions condemning the Chinese Communist Party’s actions passed the U.S. House and Senate unanimously in recent days.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Thursday that the administration’s approach to China remains “calm, resolute and practical,” though she noted the airspace incursion was “irresponsible.”

Concluding his remarks, Biden said intends to speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping soon, after the intelligence community concludes their analysis of the downed balloon.

“We seek competition, not conflict with China. We’re not looking for a new Cold War,” Biden said. But as for his decision to down the craft, “I make no apologies. I make no apologies.”

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