A US defence official told a think tank in Washington on Tuesday that it is "only a matter of time" before a major incident or accident takes place in the contentious South China Sea (SCS).
Japanese news agency Kyodo reported that Ely Ratner, assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, said: "In recent months, we've witnessed a sharp increase in unsafe and unprofessional behavior by PLA ships and aircraft, implicating not only US forces but allied forces operating in the region".
He highlighted that the "aggressive and irresponsible" behaviour could pose a threat to the peace in the region, adding: "… if the PLA continues this pattern of behavior, it is only a matter of time before there is a major incident or accident in the region…"
In an act of assertion, this year China has held a series of naval exercises in the region involving its two aircraft carriers in the waters around SCS. It also held various military exercises in the Yellow Sea near the two Koreas, ostensibly to prepare for a possible attack on Taiwan.
China also has been flying its military aircraft into Taiwan's air defence identification zone (ADIZ) on a regular basis, often prompting the island nation to scramble its own air force.
It is these acts that prompted the US defence official to share his views about the possibility of an accident or an event taking place in the fraught Indo-Pacific region. China also claims Taiwan as its territory under its One China Policy (OCP), with President Xi Jinping saying publicly that Beijing will take-over Taiwan even if this has to be done by force.
With heightened military activity around its waters, a nervous Taipei has begun holding its own military drills in a routine manner over the past many months. Its anxiety has been heightened by the Russian attack on Ukraine as the two neighbours have been closely watching the nitty-gritties of the war.
It is not just Taiwan.
The SCS too has become a bone of contention after China began laying claim to various islands and reefs in the region bringing it into territorial disputes with many countries in South-East Asia. Since the past few decades Beijing has steadily militarised those islands and even built air strips.
It has gone to the extent of asking Vietnam to not drill for oil in its own Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). It has also laid claims to territory that belongs to Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia and even Brunei.
With the US rising to the defence of Taiwan, the two giants are often locked in squabbles over the tiny democratic nation. Japan too is siding with the US in its attempts to protect Taiwan from an attack by the Communist country.
Experts say that Chinese activity in the region has increased sharply since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic which was first discovered in Wuhan in 2019.
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