The world’s attention may be largely on the Middle East, but China is continuing a provocation campaign in the western Pacific. In the last two years, there have been over 180 unsafe approaches by Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force aircraft to American and allied aircraft operating in international airspace over the western Pacific. These acts seem tailor-made to provoke a response from U.S. aircraft.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, aircraft have been experiencing an increase in “coercive” and “risky” interactions with Chinese aircraft.
DOD officials discussed the trend during a Tuesday press conference and presented newly declassified images and videos of incidents relevant.
Ely Ratner, Assistant Defense Secretary for Indo-Pacific security Affairs, said that since the fall of 2021, we have experienced more than 180 incidents. More in the last two years than the decade prior to that. This is nearly 200 incidents where PLA operators performed reckless maneuvers, discharged chaff, shot flares, or approached, rapidly or too closely to U.S. aircraft. aircraft.”
The Chinese are clearly trying to make the free and open airspace transits in the Western Pacific as difficult and stressful as possible.
Ratner added, “All of this is part of an attempt to interfere with U.S. Forces’ ability to operate in safe places where the United States and other countries have every right under international law to be.”
The People’s Liberation Army has used swift and disruptive violations of airspace rules to harass and irritate planes from the United States and its allies.
Ratner said that the number of cases increased to nearly 300 in the past two years when you include the coercive intercepts by the PLA against other countries.
China warns the United States not to intervene in the Middle Eastern conflict mentioned above, saying that “…those playing with fire will die by it.” China’s statement is difficult to understand since they are unable to project their power so far away from their shores unless they use land-based or sea-launched ballistic missiles.
The casual observer may not be able to discern what China stands to gain from these actions. However, they must believe that they will gain something in return for their risk. China has many problems. Its population is at a crisis point, its real estate market is in decline, and the Chinese Communist Party, which controls the country, is led by a man who is more powerful than any leader since Chairman Mao. The Middle Kingdom is on the verge of collapse. Yet, they are provoking a response in international airspace from Western aircraft.
Fear of collapse may be the answer.
War is often described as armed robbery on a large scale, which may explain China’s actions in the Pacific. Since the Second World War, the United States Navy enforced a Pax Americana over the world’s seas. Trade has been reliable and easy, because international shipping has traveled the oceans under American protection, just like two thousand years ago, European trade caravans traveled the seas under the protection of Roman legions.
Rome fell, legions faded, and today’s United States Navy has a much smaller global reach than it did in 1945 when the United States Pacific Fleet boasted more battleships than all the other navies, including the United States Atlantic Fleet. The fact that the Navy today seems to be more interested in diversity training than fighting wars, makes it clear that China may see an opportunity for greater resources.
Watch Taiwan. That may well be the flashpoint.