US House votes to condemn China over balloon surveillance

Full Screen
1 / 3

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, left, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., head to a secure underground facility as lawmakers and intelligence advisers arrive for a closed briefing on the Chinese surveillance balloon that flew over the United States recently, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON – The House voted unanimously Thursday to condemn China's balloon surveillance program as a “brazen violation” of U.S. sovereignty, a rare and swift bipartisan rebuke of Beijing as questions mount about the craft the U.S. says was part of a vast aerial spy program.

The 419-0 action came as lawmakers clamoring for information about the balloon that flew across American skies were being briefed by U.S. officials in a classified session. The Senate also held a hearing Thursday about the balloon, which was shot down by the U.S. military last weekend.

“This resolution, I believe, sends a clear bipartisan signal to the CCP and our adversaries around the world that this action will not be tolerated,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.

In a Congress riven by partisan splits, the shared anxiety over China's stealthy balloon surveillance program and the reach of the Beijing's global military and economic force provided an unusual opening for bipartisan agreement. The four-page resolution came together quickly, overcoming initial partisan divisions.

The top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs panel, Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York, said China “needs to come clean” about its surveillance activities. “It is now up to Beijing to demonstrate not just to the United States but to the world that it is serious about respecting international rules and law,” he said.

The balloon flew from Alaska to the Atlantic Coast, but the U.S. didn't shoot it down until it was over the Atlantic, off South Carolina. That decision sparked bipartisan concerns, questions and outrage, some of it directed at President Joe Biden for not acting sooner. But the GOP-led House set criticism of Biden aside for now and focused instead on the People's Republic of China.

While it doesn't carry the force of law, the resolution approved by the House stands as an expression of concern as Congress delves into questions about the balloon and China's surveillance activity.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who chaired a Senate subcommittee hearing Thursday on the balloon, said earlier this week he wanted to know where "exactly it flew — particularly in Montana because I’m very familiar with where the (missile) silos are — and questions like, Did it have capability to hover?”

Congress has been delving into such questions since the balloon captured America's attention late last week, refocusing lawmakers on China.

“There are very few bipartisan issues in Washington these days, but our national concern about the PRC is one of them,” said retired U.S. Navy Adm. Harry Harris in testimony this week before the House Armed Services Committee.

“Make no mistake, that balloon was intentionally launched as a calculated show of force,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., chair of the House Armed Services Committee, during Tuesday's hearing. “We have to stop being naïve about the threat we face from China.”