Chinese President Xi Jinping urged US President Joe Biden not to “play with fire.” But analysts say he brought the flamethrower into the room.
“Those who play with fire will perish by it.” President Xi warned Biden on Friday. “There is hope that the US will treat this with clarity. The US must respect the One China principle and implement the three joint communiqués in both word and deed.”
“We see how Beijing is combining its growing military power with a greater willingness to take risks,” said Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Eli Ratner at a conference of the Center for Strategic and International Studies earlier this week.
And he warned his increasingly aggressive behavior in South China Sea may result in a “major incident or accident”.
“In recent months, we have witnessed a dramatic increase in unsafe and unprofessional behavior by Chinese ships and aircraft, involving not only US forces but also allied forces operating in the region,” he added.
For its part, Beijing accuses Washington of violating its claims to sovereignty over the entire South China Sea and breaking the diplomatic blockade of Taiwan.
BUT Possible visit to Taiwan by Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi triggered Chinese threats to shoot down her plane. Since then, the Pentagon has signaled it is preparing to protect it by sending an aircraft carrier battle group into the contested waters around the island democracy.
If the trip goes through, Pelosi will be the first Speaker of the House since Newt Gingrich in 1997.
Bonnie Glaser, a China analyst at Germany’s Marshall Fund think tank, warns that Xi has no intention of appearing weak. He seeks to secure his rule for life at the upcoming Communist Party Conference.
“Probably I think China will respond militarily,” Ms Glaser said. “I don’t think they’re going to open fire or try to shoot down Ms. Pelosi’s plane. But there are many other ways they might try to interfere with the operation of the aircraft she is on.
playing with fire
Dr. Ratner pointed to incidents involving Canadian and Australian patrol aircraft where Chinese warplanes flew “dangerous” intercepts. In one example involving An Australian P-8A Poseidon, thin pieces of aluminum used to jam radar were dropped in its path. – causing it to be swallowed by the engine.
“These are not isolated cases,” Dr. Ratner said, adding that it is “only a matter of time” before a “major incident or accident” occurs.
U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley told a separate meeting of Defense Department regional officials in Sydney that Beijing “has become significantly more and markedly more aggressive in this particular region.”
The Chinese Communist Party-controlled media confirmed this trend this week.
Global Times A Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman said the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Missile Force has been ordered to conduct exercises using its new missiles to target U.S. aircraft carriers “and other large warships that may be involved in Pelosi’s visit.”
Former magazine editor Global Times Hu Xijin said he expected to see a PLA warplane intercept Pelosi’s jet over Taiwan itself.
“Sooner or later, the PLA aircraft will enter the airspace over Taiwan, which will be a legitimate and righteous move to demonstrate China’s sovereignty over the island,” he said. “China will not let Pelosi’s visit to TW go smoothly, and the PLA will definitely make further plans in response to the US military escort. There will be an unprecedented crisis over the Taiwan Strait. The likelihood of a military conflict caused by a misjudgment increases significantly.”
Miss Glazer agrees.
“If Chinese planes try to force Pelosi out of Taiwanese airspace or prevent her from landing, that will only increase the chance of a dangerous incident,” she said. Network news. “And then it will certainly cause a political crisis. It remains to be seen if this will escalate into a wider military crisis, but it will certainly spark a political crisis.”
The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and her escort, including a guided missile destroyer and guided missile cruiser, left Singapore on Monday. The Beijing University Think Tank then released satellite photos showing it moving northeast towards the South China Sea.
Ms. Pelosi originally planned to visit Taiwan in April. But the trip was canceled after testing positive for COVID-19.
The senior Democrat has yet to confirm her plans to visit Taiwan in August, but said “it’s important for us to show support for Taiwan.”
General Milley said on Wednesday: “If a decision is made to travel for Speaker Pelosi or anyone else and they request military support, we will do whatever is necessary to ensure that their visit can proceed safely. And I’ll just leave it at that.”
US officials indicated that this would involve “overlapping rings of protection” for her flight, including combat aircraft, ships, surveillance equipment and other military systems. The hospital ship Mercy also visits the Philippines.
This comes just weeks after the US staged the largest show of force in history against China.
US fighter jets approached mainland China during maneuvers with Japan in the last week of June. In response, China raised its fighters.
Such were the circumstances of the two-hour conversation between Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi on Friday morning.
“It’s about keeping lines of communication open with the President of China, one of the most important bilateral relationships that we have, not only in this region, but around the world, because they affect so many things,” the spokesman said. White House Homeland Security. press secretary John Kirby.
“Relationships are in such a toxic state. Mutual distrust is really on top. I think people don’t realize how dangerous this particular moment is,” Ms Glaser said.
“Coercion and Persecution”
Dr. Ratner told the CSIS conference that the increasingly dangerous maneuvers of Chinese aircraft “seem to be a pattern and a policy, not just an individual pilot’s decision.”
“We haven’t seen this trend on the water yet, but I suspect it is coming,” he added.
However, Chinese ships actively interfered with their neighbors, including attempts by the Philippines to resupply and relieve their garrison on the Spratlys.
Beijing’s belligerence is forcing the region to sit up and take notice.
This week, military leaders from 26 nations attended a conference in Sydney to discuss a “free and open Pacific”. China was invited. He refused to attend.
Instead, a Defense Department spokesman said that the continued activities of the US military and its allies in the South and East China Sea “cause serious damage to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China, as well as the political basis of China-US relations.”
“If the United States continues this, the Chinese military will never look and do nothing,” he added. “He will take decisive action to thwart any outside interference and separatist plans for ‘Taiwan independence’ and resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Now Beijing appears to be preparing a response to any visit by Mrs. Pelosi.
Satellite photos show the arrival of additional aircraft at Longtian Air Base in Fujian province. This air base – the closest to Taiwan – has recently completed a major upgrade. It currently hosts a swarm of Chinese J-11 and J-16 Flanker long-range fighters, as well as old J-6 fighter jets converted into drones.
“If the US insists on going its own way and challenging China’s bottom line, it will definitely get strong responses,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Thursday. “All the resulting consequences are borne by the United States.”
Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer. @JamieSeidel
Originally published as China’s aggression in the South China Sea could lead to a ‘major incident’