The lone missile fired by an F-22 Raptor quickly ended an international incident that captured the nation’s attention and underscored the growing bipartisan consensus that it pays to be tough on politics. China.
Republicans have spent days mobbing the White House over the ball, filling the vacuum created by its deliberations with accusations that the administration has gone soft on a geopolitical foe. Democrats, alarmed by China’s brazenness and under pressure to take their own tough stance, had begun to join calls for aggressive action.
And when Biden got the nod on Saturday, he sent the ball flying in a show of overwhelming force, sending several fighter jets after the spy craft as it floated out to sea.
The White House has since gone out of its way to point out that Biden had planned a violent end to the incursion all along. Senior officials said the president ordered it shot down as early as Tuesday, shortly after learning it had entered US airspace. They noted that Secretary of State Antony Blinken had canceled a planned trip to China. But even the supporting voices wanted more.
Brett Bruen, director of global engagement under former President Barack Obama, said Biden should recall his ambassador to China Nicholas Burns for consultations and fire the head of Chinese intelligence from their embassy in Washington. He added that he believed individual sanctions should be imposed on those involved.
“I would recommend Biden to get Xi [Jinping] on the line and read him the riot act,” Bruen said. “He should threaten that the next time an incident of this nature occurs, we will release sensitive secrets that the leadership in Beijing would prefer not to reveal.”
The hostile one-upmanship aimed at China over the intelligence-gathering balloon is just the latest example that lawmakers from all political backgrounds see clear benefit in taking a hawkish stance toward global power. Even though China remains a crucial trade and economic partner, Republicans and a growing number of Democrats are positioning the country as a key political concern – and therefore a national and geopolitical battering ram.
In the past two years alone, lawmakers have accused Beijing of worsening the spread of Covid and exacerbating supply chain shortages. Senior officials in the Biden administration and on Capitol Hill have raised national security concerns related to Chinese apps like TikTok and toughened their rhetoric on Taiwan independence.
representing Nancy Pelosi (D-California) made her final international pilgrimage as the island nation’s speaker and current president Kevin McCarthy signaled that he would also go there as a sign of solidarity against China.
The president himself brushed aside the competition with China in his broader rhetoric about an epic clash unfolding globally between democracies and autocracies.
And while the administration waited days to bring down the balloon, it notably chose to publicize its existence and bring it down rather than keep the matter out of public view. A senior Defense Department official noted on Saturday that several similar balloons had been spotted under Donald Trump’s administration without public outcry.
Chinese officials condemned Biden’s reaction to the surveillance balloon as “excessive” and said they reserved the right to “react further”. But domestically, Biden has been pushed back for not acting more aggressively.
GOP leaders, including Trump, have stoked fears about potential intelligence risks while pulling political punches at Biden.
‘Biden is letting China walk all over us’ tweeted former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haleywho is about to announce his 2024 presidential bid. “It’s time to make America strong again.”
Trump’s former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who is also considering a presidential run, tweeted a video depicting him pointing his own gun at the ball and boasting that he “fired many shots at the CCP” during the Trump era.
Several Democrats have taken an equally hard line against the violation of US airspace, demanding decisive action even as most defended the White House for being cautious in waiting to lower the balloon so that falling debris does not hurt. not the people on the ground.
“We have a real problem with China on a number of issues, from their human rights abuses to their violations of international trade law, to the challenges we’ve had with them over overt spying. “, Sen. Cory Booker (DN.J.) said Sunday on “Face the Nation” on CBS. “I’m grateful the military took decisive action when they did it and how they did it, but obviously we have issues here.”
Biden, meanwhile, seemed to relish the opportunity to speak tough on China, portraying himself as a fighter for America’s global dominance and a bulwark against Chinese efforts to expand its sphere of influence.
“As I point out to our friends at [European Union]don’t get mad we’re gonna be [at] the start of the supply chain,” he said at a fundraiser on Friday, referring to foreign criticism of his economic policies. “Because it’s the only guarantee you’ll have access to.”
This confrontational attitude represents a significant shift from the Democrats’ stance toward China just a few decades ago. During Bill Clinton’s administration, the predominant thread of party concern about China centered on humanitarian grounds.
The White House itself has sought to pursue a policy of “constructive engagement” with the Chinese government, keen to see the economic spoils of a more open relationship. They were cheered by Republicans on Wall Street and self-proclaimed foreign policy realists who believed that engaging with the communist nation was a strategically smarter way to defuse it.
But the relationship has become strained as China’s ambitions have grown throughout the Obama and Trump eras. And lawmakers and voters have become more critical of lost jobs and compromised national security.
Bruen said taking a harder line on China has become widely popular because the world has witnessed so many egregious acts in recent years – whether it’s genocide against the Uyghurs, from the violent crackdown on peaceful protesters in Hong Kong to the lack of transparency on Covid.
“But unlike our response to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s aggression, we need to act faster and put in more deterrents, whether it’s throwing balloons or invasions,” Bruen told POLITICO. “This moment should refocus leaders not only on strong statements and symbolic acts, but on developing a real strategy to counter Chinese aggression.”
Biden himself has yet to weigh in on how the incident will shape his own approach to China. But hours before knocking the ball down, the president couldn’t help but let out his excitement for the chance to send a strong message to his critics at home and to his rivals in Beijing.
“We’ll take care of it,” he said.