The Buzz

China's Message to Asia (And America): We Own the Air and Seas Off Our Shores

For the second time in a month, a Chinese fighter jet has made an unsafe approach to an American military aircraft.

This time, a Chinese air force J-10 fighter intercepted a U.S. RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft in international airspace over the East China Sea. The Chinese fighter approached at high speed at the same altitude, and reportedlyclosed to within a hundred feet of the converted airliner.

Not only did the Chinese intercept occur in the wake of last September’s much-ballyhooed “Rules of Behavior for Safety of Air-to-Air Encounters” between the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China, but it also occurred even as Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew were in Beijing as part of the Strategic & Economic Dialogue talks.

The Chinese are likely stepping up their activities in expectation of a ruling in the coming months from the Permanent Court of Arbitration on Chinese claims over the South China Sea.

The Philippines has filed with the Permanent Court of Arbitration regarding Chinese claims over almost the entire South China Sea; Beijing has rejected the legitimacy of the court to rule, and made clear it will ignore any findings by the court. In an interesting redefinition of “unilateral,” Beijing has condemned Manila’s filing with the international court as a “unilateral act,” exacerbating tensions in the region.

Beijing holds the U.S. responsible for the ongoing tensions in the South China Sea. Gen. Fang Fenghui, head of the People’s Liberation Army General Staff Department, stated in a 2013 joint press conference at the Pentagon with then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey, “the rebalancing strategy of the U.S. has stirred up some of the problems which make the South China Sea and the East China Sea not so calm as before.”

Madame Fu Ying, spokeswoman of the Chinese National People’s Congress, China’s legislature, made similar accusations this past March. “The U.S. is strengthening military deployment in the Asia-Pacific region together with its allies since its pivot to Asia,” Fu said.

“Is it not militarization?” She asked. In the Chinese view, the Southeast Asian states would not dare challenge China over its sovereignty claims, if the United States were not manipulating and encouraging them.

At the Shangri-La Dialogue, Chinese Adm. Sun Jianguo made the case even more explicitly. Stating that some countries are:

On one hand setting the example of implementing what is known as freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea, openly flaunting its military force, and on the other hand pulling in help from cliques, supporting their allies in antagonising China, forcing China to accept and implement the result of the arbitration.