Opinion | National Security

UFOs are (probably) not secret Chinese spy planes

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

A forthcoming government report on UFOs is fueling intense speculation among skeptics and believers. Now, with ultra-secret U.S. technology no longer a viable explanation for these phenomena, two extraordinary theories appear to be in play.

According to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a foreign government may have achieved "one heck of a technological leap" and is operating highly advanced aircraft in restricted American airspace. Alternatively, as some intelligence officials and analysts speculate, U.S. military personnel may have witnessed "non-human technology" that defies the laws of physics.

As observers grapple with these possibilities, clues are beginning to emerge that a leading theory for the military's UFO encounters - advanced Chinese aircraft - is increasingly unlikely.

For one, the South China Morning Post recently revealed that China has established its own task force to analyze unidentified objects appearing in its airspace. Beijing, like Washington, appears to take these phenomena seriously.

Moreover, Chinese analysts are reportedly so "overwhelmed" by UFO reports that China's military is now relying on artificial intelligence to assess such incidents more efficiently.

Make no mistake: These revelations are not accidental. Opaque, authoritarian states such as China do not simply volunteer information about glaring national security gaps on a whim.

This raises two possibilities. Either China is engaging in an elaborate disinformation campaign, or it is genuinely perplexed by phenomena it cannot explain.

To be sure, Beijing could be feigning concern over "unidentified air conditions" to muddy the waters while ultra-advanced Chinese craft gather intelligence in sensitive American airspace. But such a ploy seems unlikely.

Why? Governments are averse to admitting bewilderment on matters of national security, especially when a breakthrough technology may be involved. Just look at the U.S. response to UFOs. The Pentagon remains resistant to volunteering information - even in unclassified format - on the topic. As a result, Congress has been forced to take action. Moreover, recent U.S. government disclosures occurred only after Congress pulled proverbial teeth to get the military to take these encounters seriously.

Authoritarian states like China are particularly allergic to admitting a lack of control over national security matters, making revelations of Beijing's UFO struggles even more intriguing. Indeed, the weakness that such disclosures imply does not sit well with centralized leadership structures.

Taken in totality, these factors suggest that Beijing's uncharacteristic transparency on UFOs is unlikely to be a disinformation campaign. Instead, it may be a subtle, strategically timed signal that China is just as perplexed by some of these phenomena as the United States.

Indeed, as U.S. officials speculate that highly advanced Chinese aircraft are breaching American airspace, Beijing may be tacitly signaling that it is not behind these incursions.

Ultimately, unprecedented U.S. government transparency on this phenomenon spurred China to cough up information that it would not otherwise divulge. In the bizarre world of UFOs, transparency now begets transparency among the unlikeliest of actors.

If the Biden administration takes breaches of restricted airspace by advanced, unknown craft as seriously as it claims, U.S. and Chinese officials should set aside their mutual mistrust and engage collaboratively on a phenomenon that both nations struggle to comprehend. If the Cold War is any guide, the fiercest of adversaries can look beyond animosity and distrust to cooperate on critical national security matters.

Indeed, China and the United States's uncharacteristic transparency on UFOs may ultimately help overcome mutual suspicion that the other is behind these extraordinary phenomena.

Marik von Rennenkampff served as an analyst with the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, as well as an Obama administration appointee at the U.S. Department of Defense. Follow him on Twitter @MvonRen.

Outbrain