The DEFCON Warning System™

Ongoing GeoIntel and Analysis in the theater of nuclear war.  DEFCON Level assessment issued for public notification.  Established 1984.

Amid trade spat, US-China military tensions soar

The bitter trade dispute between China and the US is increasingly spilling into the military domain, with a risky incident in the South China Sea highlighting the dangers of souring relations.

In what the US Navy has called an “unsafe and unprofessional” encounter, a Chinese warship sailed within just 45 yards (41 meters) of a US destroyer Sunday as it passed by Chinese-claimed features in the South China Sea, forcing the American vessel to take evasive action.

The close call capped days of tit-for-tat military moves that came as President Donald Trump ramped up his trade war with China.

“The close encounter between the Chinese destroyer and the USS Decatur was the closest one yet,” Timothy Heath, senior international defense research analyst at the RAND Corporation, told AFP.

It “may reflect in part the growing US-China tensions. But it also appears to reflect a growing willingness by Beijing to test the Americans in the South China Sea,” he added.

Beijing reacted furiously after the incident, saying America’s “freedom of navigation” operation threatened China’s sovereignty and security, and damaged military relations between the two powers.

The encounter followed a string of other military incidents.

Last week, plans for a Beijing meeting between US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and his Chinese counterpart General Wei Fenghe fell through after China declined to make Wei available.

Days earlier, China nixed a planned port visit of a US warship to Hong Kong, and canceled a meeting between the head of the Chinese navy and his American counterpart.

That all came around the time US B-52 bombers took part in a combined operation with Japan over the East China Sea, and flew through international airspace over the South China Sea.

The Chinese defense ministry denounced the flyovers as “provocative” actions.

Mattis this week acknowledged “tension points” between the US and China, but told reporters he did not “see it getting worse.”

Ongoing Geointel and Analysis in the theater of nuclear war.


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The DEFCON Warning System is a private intelligence organization which has monitored and assessed nuclear threats by national entities since 1984. It is not affiliated with any government agency and does not represent the alert status of any military branch. The public should make their own evaluations and not rely on the DEFCON Warning System for any strategic planning. At all times, citizens are urged to learn what steps to take in the event of a nuclear attack.