What's New :
UPSC CSE Result 2023.Download toppers list

China's balloon tested boundaries of international law

  • Published
    7th Feb, 2023

The U.S. military shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the Carolina coast after it traversed sensitive military sites across North America. 

China’s Balloon Incident

  • From January 28 to February 4, 2023, a large, white high-altitude balloon operated by China crossed North American airspace, passing over Alaska, western Canada, and the contiguous United States.
  • Then, a U.S. jet shot it down over the Atlantic and U.S. ships raced to gather the debris.

Who has sovereignty over the air?

  • International law is clear with respect to the use of these balloons over other countries' airspace.
  • Every country has complete sovereignty and control over its waters extending 12 nautical miles (about 22 kilometres) from its land territory.
  • Every country likewise has "complete and exclusive sovereignty over the airspace above its territory" under international conventions.
    • This means each country controls all access to its airspace, which includes both commercial and government aircraft.
  • But the upper limit of sovereign airspace is unsettled in international law. In practice, it generally extends to the maximum height at which commercial and military aircraft operations, which is around 45,000 feet (about 13.7km).
  • The supersonic Concorde jet, however, operated at 60,000 feet (over 18km).
    • The Chinese balloon was also reported to be operating at a distance of 60,000 feet.
  • International law does not extend to the distance at which satellites operate, which is traditionally seen as falling within the realm of space law.
  • There are international legal frameworks in place that allow for permission to be sought to enter a country's airspace, such as the 1944 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation.
    • The International Civil Aviation Organization has set an additional layer of rules on airspace access, including for hot air balloons, but it does not regulate military activities.

Regulations in the US

  • The US also has its own "air defence identification zone", a legacy of the Cold War.
  • It requires all aircraft entering US airspace to identify themselves. Canada has its own complementary zone.
GS Mains Classes GS Classes 2024 UPSC Study Material

Verifying, please be patient.

Enquire Now