Pentagon officials have issued a warning about the potential for inadvertent conflict with China, highlighting concerning behavior displayed by Chinese aircraft toward U.S. military planes in international airspace. Dr. Ely Ratner, assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, revealed that there have been over 180 incidents in the East and South China Sea region since 2021, representing a significant increase in provocative and risky operational behavior over the last decade.
Ratner emphasized that these actions have interfered with the ability of U.S. forces to operate safely in international airspace, where they have a legitimate right to be under international law. The United States has a long history of operating in the region. However, recent reports indicate a growing pattern of Chinese forces employing tactics to harass and intimidate U.S. aircraft and its allies.
One example cited was a Chinese fighter jet armed with weapons approaching an American aircraft over the South China Sea, flying at high speed from just 30 feet away and maintaining close proximity for about 15 minutes. Other incidents include a Chinese fighter jet flying within 10 feet below a U.S. aircraft in the East China Sea and another fighter jet displaying weapons within 40 feet of an American plane in the South China Sea. The U.S. pilot attempted to make contact, and the Chinese pilot responded with an expletive.
The Pentagon suggests that these actions are part of a broader campaign aimed at coercing a change in lawful U.S. operational activity, as well as that of U.S. allies and partners. Admiral John C. Aquilino, commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, expressed concerns about the potential for accidents and miscalculation due to these risky intercepts. While he acknowledged that such intercepts occur globally, most happen safely and without incident. The Pentagon officials believe that China’s behavior is part of a larger effort to undermine international order through naval and land maneuvers in the region, not only against the U.S. but also against its allies and partners, including India.
This warning from the Pentagon comes after months of increased scrutiny on Chinese military activities and signals the need for vigilance and diplomatic efforts to prevent inadvertent conflict in the region.