Tensions between between Washington and Beijing in the South China Sea appear to have spiked in recent days.
The situation there is already fraught, as many countries have challenged China over its expansive claims and its construction on contested territory.
The US, China, and the Philippines have already had a showdown over one of those territories, and things there could quickly escalate again.
Amid a simmering trade war, the US and Chinese militaries have exchanged tit-for-tat measures with each other in recent days in and above the South China Sea.
Over the weekend, a US Navy destroyer sailed close to Chinese-occupied territory in the area, a freedom-of-navigation exercise meant in part to contest Beijing’s expansive claims.
During that exercise, a Chinese destroyer approached the US ship — reportedly as close as 45 feet — in what Navy officials called an “unsafe and unprofessional maneuver.”
“The tension is escalating, and that could prove to be dangerous to both sides,” a senior US official told Reuters on Sunday, after China canceled a meeting between its officials and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis — the second senior-level meeting called off in a week.
The encounter between the US and Chinese ships took place near the Spratly Islands, at the southern end of the South China Sea. Farther north, at Scarborough Shoal, the US, the Philippines, and China have already butted heads, and their long-standing dispute there could quickly escalate.