Commentary: New Reality in South China Sea


The close encounter on Aug. 19 between a US Navy P-8 Poseidon patrol aircraft and a Chinese Air Force J-11 fighter-bomber over the South China Sea is a reminder of the growing clash of interests between the two great powers.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby accused the Chinese fighter pilot of flying within 20 feet of the P-8 and said his conduct was “not only unprofessional, it’s unsafe and it is certainly not keeping with the kind of military-to-military … relations that we’d like to have with China.”

Yang Yujun, Kirby’s counterpart at the Chinese Ministry of Defense, rejected Kirby’s description and offered advice on how the US could prevent future such incidents: “[T]he US side should, from a perspective of building new models of major power relations between China and the US and in line with the principle of ‘no conflict, no fighting, mutual respect, cooperation and win-win’, adopt practical measures to reduce and eventually stop its reconnaissance activities against China, so as to create a good environment for the development of bilateral military relations.”

We should assume US policymakers will not follow Yang’s advice any time soon. In that case, we should expect more such incidents as China continues to press its maritime territorial claims in the East and South China seas. US officials will then have to face up to the risks involved with resisting China’s assertions in the two seas.

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