South China Sea on a Boil
China Intercepts U.S. Fighter Jet

Ahead of President Obama’s trip to east Asia this weekend, things are heating up in the South China Sea. Reuters:

Two Chinese fighter jets carried out an “unsafe” intercept of a U.S. military reconnaissance aircraft over the South China Sea, the Pentagon said on Wednesday, drawing a rebuke from Beijing, which demanded that Washington end surveillance near China.

The incident, likely to increase tension in and around the contested waterway, took place in international airspace on Tuesday as the U.S. maritime patrol aircraft carried out “a routine U.S. patrol,” a Pentagon statement said.

The encounter comes a week after China scrambled fighter jets as a U.S. Navy ship sailed close to a disputed reef in the South China Sea.

This is not the first such encounter: In 2014, a Chinese fighter approached a U.S. spy plane. But this latest confrontation comes after months of rising tensions as Beijing has accelerated its construction and fortification efforts in the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos. The U.S. has seemed more committed lately to putting pressure on Beijing, with the Pentagon clearly pushing the White House to be more assertive.

But China isn’t backing down, and U.S. officials expect Beijing to build even faster in the coming months. Clearly, whatever the White House has authorized thus far isn’t enough to give China much pause. On the other hand, directly challenging Beijing’s claims is exactly what the United States should be doing—especially having announced that it was committed to this course of action.

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