By Ryan Woo and Greg Torode
BEIJING/HONG KONG (Reuters) – China may react to the United States’ launch of its alleged spy balloon after warning of “serious repercussions”, but analysts say every move is likely to be finely calibrated to prevent relations from unraveling. deteriorate, both parties attempted to repair.
Regional analysts and diplomats are closely watching China’s response after a US fighter jet shot down what Beijing said was a mistaken weather-monitoring vehicle in the Atlantic Ocean off South Carolina on Saturday.
China condemned Sunday’s attack as an “overreaction” and said it reserved the right to use necessary means to deal with “similar situations”, without giving further details.
Some analysts said they would be scanning the seas and skies of East Asia for signs of tension amid growing deployments of ships and planes from China and the United States and from their allies.
But as bilateral tensions have risen in recent days over the balloon crash, Beijing and Washington have sought to rekindle ties.
The discovery of the balloon in the upper atmosphere over North America prompted the United States to postpone Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Beijing this week. The trip came following a November summit between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping.
The two sides are widely seen as keen to stabilize their relationship after a turbulent few years, with the Biden administration wary of tensions fueling disputes and Xi predicting a recovery in the world’s second-largest economy after a severe COVID-19 outbreak has the burglary at the mind.
The path to rebuilding U.S.-China relations likely remains on track, said Zhao Tong, senior fellow at the China office of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and visiting fellow at Princeton University.
“Both sides still share a strong interest in stabilizing the bilateral relationship and handling it responsibly,” Zhao told Reuters.
Sweep under the carpet
Collin Koh, a security researcher at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, predicted that China would continue to respond vigorously to US military reconnaissance patrols, but refrain from confrontation.
Even in the quietest of times, Chinese forces actively follow U.S. military patrols, especially at sea, amid tensions over Taiwan and the disputed South China Sea, according to regional military attachés.
“Against manned platforms, one would expect China to exercise restraint, but vis-à-vis unmanned platforms, it becomes more dangerous – especially if Beijing thinks it is possible to contain the fallout since there is no crew,” Koh said.
He pointed to China’s seizure of a US underwater glider used by an oceanographic research vessel off the Philippines in December 2016. The Chinese navy then returned it to a US warship.
Christopher Twomey, a security researcher at the US Naval Postgraduate School in California, said any Chinese response would be limited.
“I would expect them to protest moderately, but I hope to sweep this under the rug and restore the progress of high profile visits within a few months,” Twomey said privately.
Zhu Feng, executive dean of Nanjing University’s School of International Studies, said US officials should stop “hype” to ensure a smooth return to the normalized communications they previously demanded. in Beijing.
Zhu expressed hope that “the two governments can turn the page as soon as possible so that China-US relations can return to an institutionalized channel of communication and dialogue.”
Some analysts are monitoring Chinese state media and online activity for clues to calls for a tougher response, as China’s mainstream state media has been limited to reporting official statements.
There was little evidence on China’s heavily censored social media that nationalist anger was being stoked by the incident, with many netizens wondering what the commotion over a balloon was.
“Now China can decommission its satellites!” joked one user.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo in Beijing and Greg Torode in Hong Kong; Editing by William Mallard)