Chinese Spy Balloon over Montana meme example.

Chinese Spy Balloon

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Updated Feb 05, 2023 at 10:29AM EST by Owen.

Added Feb 03, 2023 at 09:26AM EST by Owen.

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Chinese Spy Balloon, also known as the Chinese Surveillance Balloon or Chinese Balloon Over Montana, refers to a suspected spy or surveillance balloon (though China claims it is a civilian balloon) hovering over the skies of the United States (starting in the state of Montana and ending in South Carolina) in early February 2023 as per reports from the Pentagon. The Pentagon believed it was from China's government for the purpose of unclear surveillance reasons. Additionally, another Chinese balloon was seen hovering over continental Canada and Latin America around the same time. The event led to speculation, viral discourse and memes across social media sites like Twitter and Reddit, among other platforms. Politicians and internet users alike debated on whether or not President Joe Biden should shoot down and "pop" the balloon with missiles or not, sparking the opinions of many like former President Donald Trump, among others. Days after it was first spotted, the balloon was "popped" and taken down by U.S. air forces once it flew over South Carolina and was over the Atlantic Ocean.


On February 2nd, 2023, the Pentagon stated that it detected what was reported as a "Chinese surveillance balloon" hovering over the northwestern U.S., specifically over the state of Montana.[1] Brig. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder of the Pentagon relayed the information to reporters, such as the New York Times,[1] on February 2nd. The official said that the balloon was not the first balloon sent by China to monitor the United States, but the balloon appeared to remain over the U.S. for longer.[1] Speculation about why the balloon was over Montana centered on the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, one of three American Air Force bases that operate and maintain intercontinental ballistic missiles, being in the state.[1]

On the same day, February 2nd, 2023, the government of Canada also released a statement[2] about a Chinese "High Altitude Surveillance Balloon" hovering over its country. Additionally, news outlets like the New York Times reported that the Pentagon did not want to shoot the balloon down with missiles over fear that the debris would injure people and property below.[1] Initially, President Biden wanted the balloon to be shot down but the Pentagon urged not to.[10] Another detail is that the surveillance balloon and its public awareness perpetuated by the Pentagon came days before Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken was set to visit Beijing and meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the first by an American secretary of state in six years.[1]

Online Reactions

On February 2nd, 2023, multiple news outlets posted their coverage of the Chinese balloon to Twitter and other social media platforms. For instance, on February 2nd, the Twitter[3] account rawsalerts posted a video of the balloon in the sky taken by someone on the ground, earning roughly 4 million views and 3,700 likes in less than a day (shown below). The video received increased engagement due to viral reposts, such as one from the Twitter[4] account ClownWorld_ that received roughly 13,800 likes in less than a day.

Multiple reactions and memes surfaced on Twitter and elsewhere as the news broke. For instance, on February 2nd, 2023, Twitter[5] user txiokatu posted a picture of a gun pointed at the sun with the caption, "Me trying to bring down the Chinese spy balloon," earning roughly 2,200 likes in less than a day (shown below, left). On February 3rd, Redditor BumSplunge posted a meme to /r/NonCredibleDefense[6] that object labeled a Yoda-shaped hot air balloon and a silo related to the balloon and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), earning roughly 1,000 upvotes in less than a day (shown below, right).

Carlos @txiokatu Me trying to bring down the Chinese spy balloon 7:59 PM. Feb 2, 2023 162.5K Views : CHINESE SPY BALLOON NORAD

More political and earnest reactions also surfaced on social media, mostly related to whether or not President Biden should shoot down the balloon with missiles or not. For instance, on February 2nd, 2023, Twitter[7] user thebradfordfile tweeted, "Biden is the weakest president in American history, and the Chinese sent a spy balloon to prove it," gaining roughly 10,100 likes in less than a day (shown below, left). Also that day, Twitter[8] user N76247476Man tweeted, "People screaming for the military to shoot down the Chinese spy balloon. Folks you know we can’t do that. If we do Biden, Swalwell, Feinstein and McConnell will be in serious trouble with the Chinese," earning roughly 1,500 likes in the same time period (shown below, right).

thebradfordfile @thebradfordfile Biden is the weakest president in American history, and the Chinese sent a spy balloon to prove it. 9:20 PM. Feb 2, 2023 170.2K Views ● 1,763 Retweets 62 Quote Tweets 10.1K Likes American Islandman @N76247476Man People screaming for the military to shoot down the Chinese spy balloon. Folks you know we can't do that. If we do Biden, Swalwell, Feinstein and McConnell will be in serious trouble with the Chinese. 8:32 PM. Feb 2, 2023 67.6K Views


China Claims That It's A "Civilian Balloon"

On February 3rd, 2023, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China released an official statement[9] on the balloon, claiming:

The airship is from China. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes. Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course. The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure. The Chinese side will continue communicating with the US side and properly handle this unexpected situation caused by force majeure.

Donald Trump's Response on Truth Social

On February 3rd, 2023, former U.S. President Donald Trump posted to Truth Social, [11] "SHOOT DOWN THE BALLOON!" gaining roughly 21,600 likes in three hours (shown below). His post on the platform received attention on Twitter,[12] as well as news coverage from outlets like Newsweek.[13] As reiterated by the Wall Street Journal[10] and insider reports, President Biden had initially wanted to shoot down the balloon but the Pentagon advised against the action.

Donald J. Trump @realDonald Trump · 4h SHOOT DOWN THE BALLOON! 6,813 ReTruths 21,365 Likes Reply ReTruth Feb 03, 2023, 7:25 AM Like

Blinken's Trip To China Postponed

On February 3rd, 2023, the Wall Street Journal,[14] among other outlets, reported that the "State Department had indefinitely postponed Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to Beijing" due to "what U.S. officials identified as a Chinese reconnaissance balloon [that] was detected loitering above the continental U.S."

Chinese Spy Balloon Flight Map

Starting on February 2nd, 2023, multiple news outlets and TV channels began drawing and calculating the flight path of the Chinese balloon, representing it on a map over America. The balloon was moving southeast across the United States, flying over Missouri after Montana and alleged to be over South Carolina by February 4th.[16] Additionally, the balloon's flight was reported to have started in South China, moved across the Pacific Ocean, across Alaska, down from Canada into Montana.[17]

Second Chinese Spy Balloon Over Latin America

On February 3rd, 2023, another Chinese surveillance balloon was spotted flying over Latin America, specifically the country of Costa Rica.[15][17] The balloon was alleged to be moving over Latin America into South America where it would make a flight over Brazil. [17]

ROUTE OF CHINESE SPY BALLOONS HOVERING OVER THE WEST The balloon has been monitored by US fighter jets 1 2 ALASKA The chinese 'weather' balloon is thought to fly up to 120,000ft at CANADA Montana Wyoming N. Dakota Colorado Nebraska O+Solar panels Instruments US 525-7 Costa Rica - US nuclear missile sites Venezuela Colombia CHINA 1 Pacific Ocean 2

Chinese Spy Balloon Shot Down Over South Carolina

On February 4th, 2023, the Chinese spy balloon was shot down over the Atlantic Ocean off the shore of South Carolina.[18] A U.S. F-22 fighter jet brought down the balloon with a missile at the direction of President Joe Biden.[18] Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that the balloon was being used by the People’s Republic of China "in an attempt to surveil strategic sites in the continental United States." [18]

Multiple videos of the balloon being taken down were shared to TikTok,[19] Reddit[20] and Twitter,[21] among other platforms, either posted by present bystanders or news outlets on the scene.

After the balloon was shot down, reports surfaced en masse over varying topics related to the balloon, such as:

  • Mark Esper, the former Secretary of Defense under President Donald Trump, said that he was "surprised" by the Pentagon’s statement that similar incidents (an estimated three balloons) had flown over the U.S. during the Trump administration.[22]
  • U.S. administration released a statement saying it was "confident" that the Chinese balloon was "seeking to monitor sensitive military sites." [23]
  • Beijing said that the head of national weather service had been fired after the revelation of the Chinese balloon hovering over the U.S.[24]
  • The Chinese government condemned the U.S.'s action, additionally stating that it "reserves the right to use necessary means to deal with similar situations." [25]
  • President Biden allegedly waited to shoot down the balloon due to "concerns about risks to people and property on the ground." [26] Shooting it down over the ocean would "maximize [the US intelligence community's] ability to recover its payload… sift through its components and gain insights into its capabilities… Shooting it down over water also increased the chances of being able to recover the payload intact." [26]

Various Reactions

UNITED INTELLIGENCE AGENCY STATES OF AMERICA WE KNOW WHAT RUSSIAN ORDERS ARE BEFORE THE TROOPS DO THERES NO WAY A FOREIGN COUNTRY COULD SNEAK ANYTHING INTO OUR HOMELAND Damn, Montanas a shithole PLA IMINT analysts right now: 度佳 hmm yes ICBM the silo ICBM here is made out of silo pourmecoffee @pourmecoffee Goodnight Chinese spy balloon 7:19 PM. Feb 2, 2023 90.2K Views • luhted Mera ...
@dylanfedukovich China balloon predicted by Simpsons. Simpsons do it yet again! #conspiracy #simpsons #balloon #china #GetCrackin  #ohno ♬ original sound – Dylan Fedukovich

@mexican.wisconsin I know it’s not Mexican Wisconsin related but I made this and I think these Chinese balloon memes are hilarious. #mexicanwisconsin #chinese #socialcredit #chinameme #breakingbad ♬ original sound – Official Mexican Wisconsin

Search Interest

External References

[1] New York Times – Pentagon Says It Detected a Chinese Spy Balloon Hovering Over Montana

[2] Govt. of Canada – Statement on High Altitude Surveillance Balloon

[3] Twitter – @rawsalerts

[4] Twitter – @ClownWorld_

[5] Twitter – @txiokatu

[6] Reddit – /r/NonCredibleDefense

[7] Twitter – @thebradfordfile

[8] Twitter – @N76247476Man

[9] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China – Spokesperson's Remarks
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson’s Remarks…

[10] Wall Street Jornal – Chinese Spy Balloon Tracked Over U.S. This Week

[11] Truth Social – realDonaldTrump

[12] Twitter – @alx

[13] Newsweek – 'Shoot Down the Balloon': Trump Weighs in on Chinese Spy Orb

[14] Wall Street Journal – Blinken Trip to China Postponed After Spy Balloon Spotted Over U.S.

[15] Washington Post – Another Chinese surveillance balloon spotted over Latin America, U.S. says

[16] TIME – The Alleged Chinese Spy Balloon Is Now Over Missouri. Here’s What We Know About Its Path

[17] Daily Mail – ANOTHER Chinese spy balloon is spotted

[18] CNBC – U.S. military shoots down suspected Chinese surveillance balloon

[19] TikTok – @k9vigo

[20] Reddit – /r/CombatFootage

[21] Twitter – @MichaelWX18

[22] CNN – 3 Chinese spy balloons flew over United States during Trump administration, defense official says

[23] CNN – US administration 'confident' Chinese balloon was 'seeking to monitor sensitive military sites,' official says

[24] CNN – Beijing says head of national weather service has been fired

[25] CNN – China protests after US jets shoot down suspected spy balloon.

[26] CNN – Why Biden waited to shoot down the suspected spy balloon

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