Pentagon: China’s Military Provocations Could Spark Pacific War

Pentagon: China’s Military Provocations Could Spark Pacific War

Are these actions merely intimidation tactics and saber-rattling?


While tensions between the United States and China in the Pacific are not a new phenomenon, the latter’s provocative and aggressive behavior is raising the risk that miscalculation or unintended escalation could lead to confrontation or war. Indeed, Pentagon leaders have recently expressed that they are feeling an unmistakable sense of danger in the region. 

At a recent event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Ely Ratner, assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, cited a series of what he said were extremely concerning events. In one instance, Ratner explained, a Chinese fighter aircraft released defensive “chaff” or aerial countermeasure in close proximity to an Australian aircraft. The fragments of aluminum and other debris from the chaff were “sucked” into the engine of the Australian aircraft. 


This incident was shortly followed by another, where a Chinese aircraft unsafely intercepted a Canadian aircraft over the East China Sea. In yet another occurrence, a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy vessel aimed a laser at an Australian aircraft, indicating a clear and hostile threat. 

Many at the Pentagon feel ambivalent about how the United States and its allies should interpret China’s recent behavior and have raised questions about Beijing’s intentions. Are these actions merely intimidation tactics and saber-rattling? Or could this series of successive incidents and provocations indicate China’s growing willingness to use force in the Pacific? If Chinese military leaders believe this kind of aggression might function as a “deterrent” against the actions of the United States and its allies in the Pacific, a more robust Chinese military response could be forthcoming.

While it may seem unlikely that China would initiate a military conflict in the Pacific, the Pentagon certainly is not dismissing the possibility. This is particularly true in light of China’s rapidly-improving military and growing political resolve to exert its power and influence. Certainly, for many years now, China has revealed its expansionist ambitions, which not only include a desire to dominate the Pacific but also to become the world’s preeminent military power.

Ratner observed that this kind of Chinese behavior has a long history and may indeed be escalating to yet a new level. “These are not isolated incidents,” Ratner stated. “Over the last five years, the number of unsafe PLA [People’s Liberation Army] intercepts, including U.S. allies and partners operating lawfully in international airspace in the South China Sea has increased dramatically with dozens of dangerous events in the first half of this year alone. In my view, this aggressive and irresponsible behavior represents one of the most significant threats to peace and stability in the region today, including in the South China Sea.”

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

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