Was China’s surveillance balloon in US “near space”?

Prompted by the Biden administration’s decision to take down the Chinese government’s spy balloon and several additional facilities over the weekend, today The Wall Street Journal contains an interesting article highlighting that there is no international consensus, let alone binding international agreement, governing the use of “near space” — the area between 60,000 and 330,000 feet above the earth. While states are generally considered to have control over their airspace up to 60,000 feet, and various treaties stipulate that there are no sovereign claims above 330,000 feet (where satellites orbit), “near space” is neither regulated by treaty nor clearly subject to nation control under. (So ​​much for to heaven.)

From WSJ:

The US says an alleged Chinese spy balloon shot down on February 4 violated US sovereign airspace. But when it crossed the U.S. at an altitude of as much as 65,000 feet, the balloon drifted into a dark zone at an altitude where there is no international consensus on what, if any, country has control. . . .

Countries with advanced space programs, including the US and China, have blocked efforts to extend the sovereignty of nations to the edge of space, according to minutes of a meeting of a United Nations body examining the issue. They decided on the freedom to manage their own business without restrictions. . . .

In the US, the Federal Aviation Administration monitors and controls airspace up to 60,000 feet for commercial and military traffic, a level recognized by international agreement and used in other countries. The three objects shot down over the weekend over the US and Canada all fell within that airspace, which also extends to each nation’s internationally recognized maritime boundary 12 miles offshore. . . .

International treaties assert that nations do not have sovereignty over the space reaches where satellites orbit, which are usually considered to begin at about 330,000 feet. While several countries have claimed altitudes between 60,000 feet and that limit, an expanse often referred to as “near space,” those claims are not recognized under international law.

The lack of international agreements does not mean that some nations are not starting to make demands. Further from the article:

In 2017, New Zealand became the first country to include surveillance of such high altitudes in its space law, requiring users to secure licenses to operate above its territory. New Zealand has not defined high altitude. Several other countries followed suit, including the United Arab Emirates, which set a limit of roughly 262,000 feet for high-altitude surveillance. But in those cases, other countries did not accept the request of the United Arab Emirates.

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