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Updated Feb 1, 2024, 4:12pm EST
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Semafor Signals

It’s been one year since balloongate

Insights from Politico’s China Watcher, The Hill, and The Times of India

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A U.S. Air Force pilot looks down at the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon as it hovered over the Central Continental United States on Feb. 3, 2023.
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images/US Department of Defense
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The News

It’s been one year since the infamous Chinese spy balloon was first detected over Montana, marking a new low in one of the most tumultuous years in U.S.-China relations.

But experts are now cautiously optimistic that tensions are thawing: This year, Beijing and Washington resumed counter-narcotic discussions, as well as military talks, and officials have been working on expanding trade between the two superpowers since last November.

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SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

Beijing and Washington ‘want to move on’ from the balloon, but some seek more answers

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Source:  
Politico

Both Washington and Beijing “just seem to want to move on” from the balloon incident, Politico’s China Watcher newsletter wrote, but some unresolved issues might prevent them from closing that chapter. While Dennis Wilder, a former National Security Council director for China, told Politico that the Biden administration “wants to bury” the incident given their confidence that Chinese leader Xi Jinping had nothing to do with it, some Republican lawmakers are blasting the government for refusing to publicly share an FBI analysis of the balloon wreckage. Wilder was also skeptical about the Pentagon’s assessment that the balloon did not collect any intelligence during its journey across the U.S. He believed that Biden made a strategic error in not fully acknowledging Beijing’s apology for the balloon — given that “the Chinese never apologize.”

China sending near-daily spy balloons to intimidate Taiwan is not enough of a big deal, some analysts say

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Sources:  
The Hill, NOWNews

China has been sending spy balloons into Taiwanese airspace almost daily before and after the self-governing island elected a president who Beijing views as pro-independence on Jan. 13. But while “balloons are a big deal” and likely an “extension” of China’s military intimidation tactics, they are not provocative enough to spark a conflict, one security analyst told The Hill. Given that China is also struggling with its own domestic issues, it doesn’t want to “rock the boat with the U.S,” the analyst added. Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office urged the island’s new president, William Lai, not to “politically hype” the issue, claiming that the balloons are “nothing new” and are only being used for meteorological purposes.

India releases suspected Chinese spy pigeon that turned out to be racing bird from Taiwan

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Sources:  
Times of India, The Associated Press

In India, potential Chinese air surveillance is also in the spotlight, but for a very different reason. Mumbai officials on Thursday released a pigeon that was held in captivity for eight months because it was initially suspected of being used for Chinese espionage, the Times of India reported. When it was caught, messages with a Chinese-like script were found on rings tied to its legs, but an investigation revealed that the bird was actually being used in a Taiwan open-waters race and had escaped to India, officials said. This was the third pigeon that Indian authorities have detained: one was mistakenly thought to be a spy for Pakistan, and the other was found with a threatening note to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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