Aerial interceptions in the South China Sea: escalation of tensions between China and the United States
Aerial interceptions which worry
Faced with an increase in aerial interceptions in the Pacific, American General Kenneth S. Wilsbach sounded the alarm. Interceptions, although taking place in international airspace, are becoming increasingly dangerous. Tension is growing between Washington and Beijing, each blaming the other for these risky maneuvers. Wilsbach notes that although the United States is accustomed to being intercepted, the manner in which these interceptions are carried out by the Chinese raises major concerns.
Palpable tensions in the skies over the South China Sea
The May 26 incident, captured on video, shows a Chinese J-16 fighter jet flying directly in front of an American RC-135, causing turbulence that disrupted the American plane’s flight. This “unnecessarily aggressive” maneuver comes after a similar incident on December 21, where a Chinese plane came dangerously close to another American RC-135. The United States, true to its commitment, said it would continue to fly where international law allows, while waiting for all countries in the Indo-Pacific region to use the airspace safely.
History of air incidents between China and the United States
Since 2015, interceptions between American and Chinese planes are not new. The South China Sea is regularly the scene of such incidents, exacerbating tensions between the two superpowers. The Pentagon, seeking to expose this behavior deemed dangerous, has often published videos, particularly of incidents involving Russia. In March, a video showed a Russian jet dropping fuel in front of an MQ-9 Reaper drone, leading to a crash in the Black Sea. These incidents show a pattern of dangerous actions that risk leading to unwanted escalations.
Communication at half mast between the two superpowers
Communication between the two countries is at a worrying impasse. Despite the United States’ stated desire to establish dialogue, China shows a “concerning absence of will” to engage in meaningful discussions. US Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has not spoken to his Chinese counterpart in months. Additionally, during a recent planned trip to Singapore, China declined a meeting with Austin. This wall of silence, combined with a series of incidents in the South China Sea, makes the situation particularly volatile.