THE NATIONAL INTEREST — China’s brazen and “improper airmanship,” buzzing an American surveillance plane in the skies above the East China Sea last week, is but the latest signal of Beijing’s proclivity for risk and willingness to undermine both its regional reputation and economic stability in order to stake expanding claims in Asia.
Western observers have not relinquished the perennial hope that China’s global economic interconnectedness will constrain its proclivity to military conflict. But this belief is misguided and not borne out by history. In fact, as China’s economic and military power rise, it has shown an increased tolerance for risk and raised the likelihood of future war.
China has repeatedly harassed Indonesian, Vietnamese and Philippine ships in the latter’s territorial waters, claiming that Chinese citizens have been fishing there “since ancient times,” entitling them to vast maritime sovereignty. Its island construction on top of shallow reefs is another component in Beijing’s strategy to assert dominance over the South China Sea.
The near-collision of the Chinese fighter jet with the U.S. spy plane last week follows a string of gutsy, high-risk encounters. Only last month, two Chinese jets flew within fifty feet of an American EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft over the South China Sea.
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