Admiral James Stavridis said China may have sent a suspected spy balloon to the United States to signal displeasure over three issues with U.S. policy in the Indo-Pacific region.
The balloon was first spotted over Billings, Montana, last Wednesday—sparking national security concerns, as it violated both international law and U.S. airspace. It floated across the United States in the following days before being shot down over the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday.
The situation further strained relations between the United States and China, which have sparred over Taiwan’s right to self-governance as well as the Russia-Ukraine war in recent months.
Following the discovery of the balloon, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a planned trip to Beijing, which was meant to quell tensions. China, meanwhile, has condemned the U.S. for shooting down the balloon, arguing it was merely a weather balloon that blew off course.
During an appearance Monday on NBC News, Stavridis explained why China was willing to risk heightened tensions with the U.S. to send the balloon.
“I think that what we have seen is a pretty direct signal to the Untied States of displeasure, really about a couple of things,” he said.
Here is an overview of the three issues Stavridis believes could have compelled China to escalate tensions with the United States last week.
U.S. Base Agreement With Philippines
First, Stavridis suggested the balloon could have been signaling frustration over a new deal between the United States and the Philippines. Following prior speculation, the two countries announced last week that Washington would be granted access to bases on the East Asian country’s islands, countering China’s influence in the region.
China condemned the deal, writing that it would “escalate regional tension and undermine regional peace and stability.”
“It is hoped that the Philippine side stays vigilant and resists from being taken advantage of and dragged into trouble waters,” the Chinese government wrote in a statement.
Stavridis said China could be particularly enraged by the deal allowing the U.S. access to bases on the northern island of Luzon, home to the Philippines’ capital and largest city, Manila.
New U.S. Base in Guam
He also pointed to the construction of a new Marine Corps base in the U.S. territory of Guam as a potential point of contention between the two nations. Camp Blaz is the first new base in 70 years, and, according to CNN, could host up to 5,000 Marines.
Experts say the base—which officially opened last month, just days before the balloon was spotted over Montana—is aimed at deterring threats from China.
Kevin McCarthy’s Possible Visit to Taiwan
Lastly, Stavridis said the balloon could have been a signal against House Speaker Kevin McCarthy‘s potential trip to Taiwan.
Punchbowl News reported earlier in February that the Pentagon was beginning preparations for a potential trip for the new House leader, prompting criticism from China.
China considers Taiwan part of itself, while Taiwan views itself as independent. While the U.S. does not officially recognize Taiwanese independence, it has said it would support Taiwan if China were to launch military action against it.
“China opposes any form of official interaction between its Taiwan region and countries having diplomatic ties with China. We hope U.S. lawmakers will abide by the one-China principle and the three China-U.S. joint communiqués and refrain from doing things detrimental to China-U.S. relations and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” China Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said last week.
Newsweek reached out to China’s Foreign Ministry for comment.
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