Chinese social media reactions to the spy balloon

Politics & Current Affairs

“The U.S. should respect the floating freedom of the balloon,” a Weibo user wrote. Others are mocking America for being easily spooked, while some are expressing doubts about the Chinese government's explanation that the 'airship' was for meteorological purposes only.

Eyewitness image taken by Chase Doak captures what is suspected to be a Chinese spy balloon on Wednesday, February 1. EYEPRESS via Reuters Connect.

On Thursday evening, the U.S. Defense Department stated that it had been tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon as it made its way over the northern part of the country this week. The Pentagon believed it was from China and described it as an “intelligence-gathering” airship, but it decided not to shoot it down over concerns of hurting people on the ground.

In light of the revelation, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said today that he had  postponed a planned high-stakes weekend trip to Beijing. Meanwhile, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement this morning, saying the balloon is a “civilian airship” used for research that “deviated far from its planned course” under the influence of “the westerly wind.” The statement also expressed regret that the airship strayed into the U.S., stressing that its ability to control its direction “is limited.”

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On western social media sites like Twitter and Reddit, the event immediately sparked a flurry of speculation. On Twitter, multiple videos of the balloon have gone viral, generating millions of views and thousands of likes on the platform. Memes quickly surfaced. A Twitter user posted a picture of a gun pointed at the sun with the caption, “Me trying to bring down the Chinese spy balloon,” racking up 2,200 likes in less than a day. On Reddit, a user shared an image of a Yoda-shaped hot air balloon and a silo with them being labeled as the “Chinese spy balloon” and “NORAD,” the North American Aerospace Defense Command. The post has earned almost 2,000 upvotes so far. 

The news is also a trending topic on Chinese social media today. On Weibo, a hashtag “Chinese unmanned airship accidentally entered U.S. airspace due to uncontrollable forces”  #中国无人飞艇因不可抗力误入美国领空#, derived from China’s official explanation of the incident, has garnered over 130 million views. Many Weibo users described the airship as “the wandering balloon” (流浪气球 liúlàng qìqiú), a pun on The Wandering Earth, a 2019 Chinese sci-fi blockbuster that just saw its prequel released during the past Lunar New Year holiday.

On Weibo, opinions are split as to whether the balloon is an intelligence-collecting device sent out purposefully by the Chinese government. Some people followed the official narrative parroted by a string of state media publications including the Global Times, accusing the U.S. of making “groundless claims” and “hyping up China threat.” But most commenters were skeptical of China’s explanation, writing that with all things considered, they were hard pressed to believe that the drifting was a pure coincidence. 

Below, we rounded up some reactions from both sides of the spectrum.

We don’t have the microchip to control the balloon. What could we do about it?


I’m sorry the wind was too strong.



The Lantern Festival is around the corner. The balloon is actually a sky lantern we sent over to wish Americans a happy Lantern Festival.



Who cares if Antony Blinken will come or not? America always bills itself as No.1 in the world but it got spooked by just a balloon.



An unhinged balloon broke America’s heart.



Oh damn. I thought America was lying but it turns out we were making an international joke.



The world is so big but the balloon just loves going to America. The wind is so intelligent.



Yeah of course it’s due to force majeure. You can’t go against nature.



The U.S. should respect the floating freedom of the balloon.



The unmanned airship: “The world is so big and I want to see it all.”



The airship wants to go there. Don’t ask us about it!



We’ve expressed regret. What else do you want from us?