A top Pentagon official warned of a possible major incident if China continues its aggressive behavior.
Ely Ratner said recent intercepts from Chinese fighter jets have been “dangerous” and “unsafe.”
His comments echo concerns recently raised by the top US general and the secretary of defense.
Increased aggressive Chinese behavior around the South China Sea could eventually lead to a “major incident or accident” in the region, a top Pentagon official said on Tuesday.
“We see Beijing combining its growing military power with greater willingness to take risks,” Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Ely Ratner said at a Center for Strategic & International Studies conference.
“In recent months, we’ve witnessed a sharp increase in unsafe and unprofessional behavior by [Chinese] ships and aircraft — implicating not only US forces, but allied forces operating in the region,” he added.
Ratner said that over the last five years, the number of “unsafe” Chinese fighter jet intercepts over the South China Sea has “increased dramatically” and that there have been dozens “dangerous” incidents in 2022 alone.
He specifically mentioned recent accusations from Canada and Australia that Chinese jets performed “dangerous” intercepts near their own aircraft while carrying out routine missions. He noted that Chinese jets even released chaff containing small pieces of aluminum that went into one of the aircraft’s engine.
Ratner said “these are not isolated incidents,” adding that China’s “aggressive and irresponsible behavior” is “one of the most significant threats to peace and stability in the region today.”
Ratner said if China continues this pattern, it is “only a matter of time” before there is a “major incident or accident.” Such an incident would not be unprecedented, as there have been accidents in the past. In 2001, for instance, a Chinese J-8II interceptor aircraft collided with a US EP-3 spy plane near Hainan.
Ratner’s remarks echo comments from other senior Pentagon officials.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned in Indonesia this week that the Chinese military has “become significantly more and noticeably more aggressive in this particular region,” and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in Singapore in June that there had been an “alarming increase” in unsafe intercepts of US and partner force aircraft.
Tensions between the US and China have increased in recent months amid concerns surrounding Taiwan, a self-ruled democratic island Beijing has long claimed as its own.
A particular sore spot in the relationship at the moment is a possible trip by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan. China has threatened possible military action if the congresswoman goes ahead with a tentative upcoming trip to Taiwan. The Pentagon has indicated it is making plans for the possible movement of fighter jets, warships, and other assets to ensure her protection.
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