China, US Warplanes Nearly Collide Over Disputed South China Sea

Two warplanes, one from China and the other from the United States, had a near-collision in the skies over the South China Sea recently. American officials revealed the planes came within only a few hundred meters of each other. Fears that the slightest misstep or miscalculation could possibly lead to a devastating war between superpowers China and the United States have been on the rise of late in the disputed area, especially since the two countries have increased their military presence in the region. Incidents such as the near-miss do nothing to reduce the tension.

The Daily Star reported Friday that a U.S. Navy P-3 Orion, an anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft, had a near mid-air collision recently with a People’s Liberation Army KJ-200, a Chinese surveillance warplane, over the South China Sea. U.S. officials said the two aircraft came within 300 meters (984 feet) of each other.

According to the American officials, the Navy warplane had to take evasive action to avoid a collision. They called out the Chinese for the “unsafe” incident, and a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Command said that the matter would be addressed through “diplomatic and military channels.”

“The Department of Defense and US Pacific Command are always concerned about unsafe interactions with Chinese military forces. We will address the issue in appropriate diplomatic and military channels.”

China and the United States have been at odds over the growing territorial tensions regarding the South China Sea for some time. China claims areas, islands and maritime waters that are disputed by six other southeast Asian and Oceanic nations in the region and have warned the United States to not interfere in the regional matter. The U.S., for its part, has entered the fray on the side of its regional allies, such as Japan, and have told China it would protect the international rights of the region.

At the heart of the tensions are the shipping lanes of the South China Sea. Some $5 trillion in trade goods pass through the disputed waters each year.

South China Sea map of disputed territory

Both the U.S. and China have sent warships, warplanes, and missiles into the contested region with the Chinese even going so far, according to Inquistr, as to send a fleet of warships to sail off the coast of Taiwan (which is still considered a province of mainland China) in late December. China has also constructed man-made islands and fortified them, much to the consternation of other nations claiming territorial rights in the South China Sea. There is fear that China will use the man-made islands to constrict and control shipping lanes in the region.

Still, as the Daily Star has noted, there were only two other confrontations over the disputed area in 2016.

The problem with such near miss confrontations is that an actual military incident could arise from what appears to be an avoidable event. Incidents can spiral out of control and lead to military conflict. Just such a cautionary report was released by London think tank European Leadership Network in 2015 (per the International Business Times) after a worrisome number of aircraft and warship confrontations took place between Russia and several NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) countries.

Concept of rift in US, China relationship

International relations between the U.S. and China have also been on the downswing for the last few years, and the newly elected President of the United States, Donald Trump, spent over a year (during his campaign) accusing China of “raping” the American economy of its manufacturing jobs, using “unfair” trade tactics, and manipulating the dollar in world markets. Just before becoming president, Trump even accused China of “stealing” a U.S. underwater drone that, according to a report by Inquisitr. China said the incident was blown out of proportion by American officials and the media.

More recently, China voiced concern over the successful testing of a joint U.S.-Japan ballistic missile defense system.

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