A recent spate of dangerous midair encounters between American military aircraft and Chinese and Russian planes in the Pacific is the result of increasingly assertive strategies by both U.S. adversaries to project power far beyond their borders, according to the top U.S. Air Force commander in the region.
Air Force Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, the head of U.S. Pacific Air Forces, said China’s naval and air forces in particular are “very much continuing to push” and becoming more active in international waters and airspace in Asia.
“They still talk about the century of humiliation in the last century. They still talk about this as the rise of China,” Carlisle said in an interview. “They still talk about this as their great nation. And they want to continue to demonstrate that.”
Carlisle said U.S. and Chinese forces are frequently encountering each other in parts of the East China and South China seas where they rarely came into contact in the past. Since commissioning its first aircraft carrier two years ago, China’s navy has conducted more exercises farther away from its shores and is closely patrolling areas in disputed waters where Chinese companies are drilling for oil.
Those movements have prompted the U.S. military in turn to deploy its ships and reconnaissance aircraft to keep a close watch. China’s military usually responds by conducting intercepts of U.S. aircraft as the two sides jockey for position, Carlisle said.
“All of that makes their tension go up a little bit,” he added.