China Will 'Pull the Trigger' in the South China Sea

Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) navy sailors march during an open day at the Ngong Shuen Chau Naval Base on Hong Kong's Stonecutters Island July 28, 2012. The naval base was open to the public on Saturday, four days ahead of the PLA Army Day on August 1. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Beijing may want to “win without fighting” as Holmes suggests, but it cannot win without confronting.

But hostile Chinese officers, who feel the U.S. is in terminal decline, think they can get what they want. Fanell believes they might move against a U.S. Navy vessel passing through the South China Sea. “The confrontation would be designed to bloody the nose of the U.S. and remind the region that it is now China’s navy and air force that rule the region,” he warns. He thinks Beijing “will actively seek a near-term military confrontation in the South China Sea.”

The Chinese, fueled by their own sense of power, are now arrogant.

And dangerous. For instance, in August 2014 a Chinese J-11 fighter intercepted a U.S. Navy P-8 reconnaissance plane in international airspace 137 miles southeast of Hainan Island, over the South China Sea.

The J-11 flew directly under the P-8 three times, once coming as close as 50 feet. The Chinese plane also crossed the nose of the American craft with its underside toward the P-8, showing, in a menacing gesture, its weapons loadout.

Then the J-11 pilot flew under the P-8 and came alongside, bringing his wingtips within 20 feet of the Navy plane. Finally, the J-11 conducted a barrel roll over the P-8, passing within 45 feet.

The Chinese Ministry of Defense released a statement showing Beijing’s intent to stop the American surveillance flights and blaming the United States for the incident. Moreover, Xu Guangyu, a retired general affiliated with the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, said the intercept “was a form of admonishment” of the Americans and a “warning.” State media outlets repeated the message in a concerted campaign.

Buzzing incidents over the South China Sea have continued with regularity, with the last known one occurring less than a year ago.

Yes, as Jim Holmes noted in his title, China may not “want” confrontation. Yet whether China desires confrontation should no longer be at issue. Chinese leaders, by their actions, are in fact confronting other states in the South China Sea.

And they are doing so in exceedingly dangerous ways.

Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Coming Collapse of China. Follow him on Twitter @GordonGChang.

Image: Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) navy sailors march during an open day at the Ngong Shuen Chau Naval Base on Hong Kong's Stonecutters Island July 28, 2012. The naval base was open to the public on Saturday, four days ahead of the PLA Army Day on August 1. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu 

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