Balloon Gate : A Tale of US-China Relationship

Balloon Gate : The Two Superpowers’ Saga

It all started on a beautiful summer wedding night.  A good old fashioned Chinese wedding where the handsome, well built groom was Kai Zu Yushiro – a young PLA Intelligence Officer – who had a degree in Engineering from University of Shanghai – and left his job at a leading Automobile firm just for the sake of his motherland.

Fairly new at his job – the young officer noticed the hot air balloons famously known as the Chinese lanterns, the beautiful bridesmaids were floating in the air and how they soared turning the night sky magical – and then suddenly – he had an idea.

The honeymoon was postponed. That summer, Mr. Kai spent his days and nights perfecting the design of a balloon that would be lightweight, easily navigable at a long range, durable and capable of being equipped with state-of-the-art spy intelligence cameras. Finding the lightweight material that’s durable was a tough job – but he finessed it too – polyester mixed with plaster of Paris – coated with both radar proof and weatherproof paints. The wired mesh structure was lightweight and housed the guidance system – the mesh had the wirings internally – the final design looked like a floating sky lantern.

Kai pitched it to the CAS research department – and continued working in the design department of the PLA before his untimely death in 1994 in a car crash. But that was the start of something that’d manifest itself as “ BalloonGate” – an incident that’d rattle the very fabric of the geopolitical and financial order after almost 30 years since Kai died.

Kai’s father, a cold war era CAS secret service veteran got incarcerated in US and was subjected to inhuman treatments – and Kai’s idea continued to be the stuff of myth in the CAS corridors until they designed it – the perfect spyware balloon that can be disguised as a weather report recon balloon operable at long distances. Soon, in 2023, Chinese Balloons started appearing in the skies of Alaska, swift, stealthy and fast – locals called them UFOs.

Chinese Espionage was on. Mission Eye in the Sky had started.

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“Hey Rook, do you see something ahead ?

NoRAD : North American Recon and Air Defence is situated in the hilly mountains of Alaska – trainee Canadian Pilots come , visit the place and get their certifications of Fighter Pilot High Altitude Warfare Badge – the US Air Force houses a small squadron of about 11 aircrafts here – camouflaged in snow white – occasionally going out for routine checks and training flights.

Trainee US Air Force pilots JFO “Colt” Styris and RWO “Cash” Penn were going on about their routine night sortie when suddenly, at above 11000 ft from the surface – they saw something hovering among the clouds – it was moving!

They detected something that looked like a balloon – they made a call that could get them fired from their jobs. They took it down and reported it to NoRAD intelligence. Tracing the place of origin was tough since any markings were meticulously filed away – until they took a look inside the motor – and lenses – they were made of military grade materials. The publicly available records show how various state enterprises have roles in ballooning, including a government research institute focused on satellites and optical imaging. And in the desolate grasslands of Inner Mongolia, an octagon-shaped slab of concrete marks what is thought to be a launch site for Chinese balloons, according to San Francisco-based satellite-imaging firm Planet Labs PBC, which provided The Wall Street Journal with the photo, and identified by Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, Calif.

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The science academy in China that did the early tests is now a leading balloon development center and in 2017 announced plans for a balloon flight base at Siziwang Banner, the area in the Planet Labs image. China’s space capsules return to Earth nearby, while Inner Mongolia is also associated with the nation’s satellite program, though rocket and spaceflight control stations are spread around the nation, from Hainan in the south to western Gansu.

Economic Impact 

CIA, Pentagon and The Washington  got involved soon  and the phones in Langley started ringing like crazy – it had started – China got sent a show cause notice for flouting International Norms of Espionage – which Beijing declined saying it was a balloon meant for academic studies – something which quite didn’t fit the mould. Alarmed, America started constricting it’s financial and geopolitical ties with China – and whenever the two superpowers go to financial warfare – the global economy bears the worst of it. Rising inflation, recession feedback loop and supply chain bottlenecks were causing worries. With the Ukraine War going on – US trade embargo with Russia forced it to constrict its financial ties with China – the China Taiwan crisis was also going on and US was to be the mediator. Suddenly, Washington had too much on their plate. China suddenly was at their throats and the Americans did what they do best. They tried to put China in a financial chokehold, a decision that was ambitious, even for the USA.

Meanwhile, the balloon hunt was still on – with the tally increasing each day.

Colt and Cash got promoted, and lead their squadron of six in search of spywares in Alaska now.

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“A vacation in a foreign land, Uncle Sam does the best he can…”

Meanwhile, a war was still going on in Ukraine – with NATO and US, Canada almost directly involved in a war with Russia. The war made things back home worse – and with a hole in both China and Uncle Sam’s pocket – the smaller economies dependent on the two bore the worst of it – Pakistan financial crisis and slowly dying alliance that it had with the US can be used as a indicator to that – and some might argue it to be a far shot and long drawn conclusion – that’s the beauty of both geo political and global monetary framework – it’s like a spiders web – a tug at one of the strings causes the whole web to rattle – a favor we owe to globalization , connectivity and the interconnected networks nations and corporates use.

Coming from a long line of fighter pilots and aces – SFO First Class Dean “Cowboy” Styris – a Texan Helicopter Pilot goes out for a morning air support routine in his Apache Gunship – remember Colt from the NoRAD? Dean is his older brother. Sons of Corporal Lee Styris – both brothers serve their country in different fronts. While Dean sees dogfights everyday – Colt goes out in search of balloons in stormy Alaska weather at nights where visibility hits close to zero.

“It’s a tough job , I mean I know we signed up for this – and I know Colt – but whenever he flies I feel uneasy – that’s , that’s my baby brother man..” – The rest of Dean’s dialogue gets muffled as he puts on his headgear to fly.

Two brothers fighting against a Chinese Intelligence Officer’s masterplan for vengeance.

Two nations fighting battle, two financial and political superpowers colliding.

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