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Testing Testing
China Pokes and Prods In East China Sea

China delivered a one-two punch in the East China Sea this week, leading two provocative maneuvers that have triggered protests from Washington and Tokyo.

First, on Wednesday, two Chinese fighters led a dangerous intercept of a U.S. surveillance aircraft tasked with “sniffing” for evidence of a North Korean nuclear test. The Washington Post has the details:

Two Chinese SU-30 fighters flew up close to an American WC-135 on Wednesday, the U.S. Air Force said in a statement, saying the American aircrew had described the intercept as “unprofessional,” based on the Chinese pilot’s maneuvers and the speeds and proximity involved.

“The issue is being addressed with China through appropriate diplomatic and military channels,” said Air Force spokeswoman Lt. Col. Lori Hodge, adding a U.S. military investigation into the intercept was underway. […]

The U.S. official told CNN the Chinese jets came within 150 feet of the U.S. plane, with one of the SU-30s flying inverted, or upside down, directly above the American plane.

China is downplaying the incident’s significance, but this doesn’t look like an isolated case of an overzealous pilot flying too close to comfort. The very next day, the Chinese got up to more tricks in the East China Sea, spooking Japan by sending vessels and a drone near the disputed Senkaku Islands. Reuters:

Japan scrambled fighter jets on Thursday after four Chinese coastguard vessels entered what Japan considers its territorial waters near disputed East China Sea islets and a drone-like object flew near one ship, Japan said. […]

“This is escalating the situation and absolutely unacceptable,” Defense Minister Tomomi Inada told a news conference on Friday, referring to the incursion and drone flight.

“We regard this as a serious infringement of Japan’s sovereignty.”

Taken together, the interactions certainly look like a challenge—and they closely parallel a similar pair of incidents last June. Then as now, China intercepted a U.S. aircraft over the East China Sea the day before sending a frigate near the Senkaku Islands. And this is, of course, part of a wider pattern of Beijing poking and prodding its rivals, gradually intensifying its maneuvers to test the limits of what it can get away with.

Under Obama, the Chinese calculated that it could get away with such provocations at minimal cost. Will they come to the same conclusion about Trump?

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  • KremlinKryptonite

    I said it here on TAI disqus threads and elsewhere before the Mar-a-Lago meeting. I said, look for some kind of test within two months or less of the meeting, and also look for statements and other signals coming out of Beijing, especially on NK. More precisely, the question is: are the signals concise and consistent, or are they contradictory and almost haphazard.

    Now we have seen both. Dangerous intercepts of US aircraft are classic tests. And the Chinese regularly send vessels to violate Japan’s territorial waters, as in within 12 miles of the Senkakus. That much is an old story, and a moot point until Beijing actually decides to use violence or some kind of “accident” occurs.
    There are a lot of islands in the region, including some fake ones, but the senkakus are Japanese and the US has obligated itself by treaty to protect them per Article 5.

    There have also been several contradictory statements and more or less total inaction on NK. Of course, that much was expected, as Trump has not done anything serious to impose any kind of cost and actually change the calculus for Beijing as it pertains to helping what is essentially beijings baby or some other kind of dependent.

  • Observe&Report

    Given the domestic events of the past two weeks, it is possible that China thinks that the Trump administration will be too distracted to do much.

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