CLAIM: President Joe Biden told Congress during his annual State of the Union address on Tuesday that his administration’s response to an invading Chinese surveillance balloon proved “we will act to protect our country – and we did.”
VERDICT: MOSTLY FALSE. Biden approved shooting down the balloon – an unmanned vessel apparently equipped with advanced surveillance technology that China claimed was for exclusively “meteorological” purposes – on Saturday, but only after allowing it to cross nearly the entire country.
Late in his speech on Tuesday, Biden addressed the growing national security threat that the Communist Party of China represents to America. China regularly engages in a variety of espionage activities – from intellectual property theft to infiltration of American academia and the military. Biden claimed that he had stopped the unchecked rise of China and decline of the United States.
“Before I came to office, the story was about how the People’s Republic of China was increasing its power and America was falling in the world. Not anymore. … I made clear in my personal conversations, which have been many, with President Xi Jinping that we seek competition, not conflict,” Biden claimed. “But I will make no apologies that we are investing to make America stronger. Investing in American innovation, in industries that will define the future that China intends to be dominating.”
“Today, we’re in the strongest position in decades to compete with China or anyone else in the world,” he continued. “I am committed to work with China where we can advance American interests and benefit the world.”
Biden did not explicitly mention the Chinese balloon incident, but alluded to it as a message to China that his administration would not tolerate violations of sovereignty.
“But make no mistake about it: as we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did,” Biden claimed.
The Chinese balloon controversy arose late on Thursday when alarmed onlookers in Montana began sharing videos and photos on social media of what appeared to be a giant white ball in the sky. The Pentagon clarified soon after that it appeared to be a vessel that originated in China and that it would not act to destroy it out of concerns that falling debris would hit and injure people on the ground.
Public knowledge of the vessel, which the Pentagon confirmed was a “surveillance balloon,” prompted immediate outraged calls for Biden to order it shot out of the sky, particularly in light of the fact that Montana is home to some of the country’s most sensitive nuclear weapons sites. Authorities in both the United States and Canada later confirmed that the balloon apparently entered America through Alaska and traveled down the entirety of Canada before entering Montana.
The Department of Defense estimated later on Friday that the balloon would remain for a “few days” illegally in American airspace. As public pressure mounted, Biden finally approved the use of an F-22 fighter jet to take the balloon down in waters off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday, expediting the initially offered timeline.
Bloomberg News reported on Saturday that Biden’s administration was “well aware” of the Chinese balloon entering U.S. airspace as early as January 28, but chose not to make that information public. The administration only confirmed the presence of the invading aircraft after civilians in Montana saw and reported the balloon over the skies of their state.
A poll published on Tuesday by the groups Trafalgar Group and Convention of States Project found that 63.4 percent of Americans considered the balloon situation “mishandled” under Biden.
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