As Lucas Tomlinson reports at Fox News, this weekend, two J-10 Chinese Air Force jets came close to downing a U.S. Navy EP-3 reconnaissance plane this weekend.
Flying erratically, they nearly crashed into the 24-person crewed U.S. aircraft.
Let’s be clear, this is a warning shot from the Chinese military. The Chinese remember full well what happened in April 2001, when a U.S. EP-3 was forced to land on Chinese-held Hainan island after a Chinese jet crashed into it. That incident sparked a major diplomatic crisis.
And China knows that we know that this history is their thought process.
Correspondingly, it’s abundantly clear that China has decided to pushback against growing U.S. pressure in the South and East China Seas. President Trump is deploying additional U.S. forces to send China a message: fail to pressure North Korea to abandon its ballistic missile program, and we will increase the U.S. Military’s forward deployed presence in the region (China hates the presence of the U.S. Military for many reasons).
This weekend’s incident is China’s response.
In order to protect our personnel, and our diplomatic agenda, we must counter this new Chinese escalation.
As a first step, the U.S. should attach U.S. Navy and Air Force fighter jets as reconnaissance flight escorts. In the military, such escorts are known as HAVCAPs (High Asset Value Combat Air Patrols) and entail the protection of vulnerable, VIP, or unarmed military aircraft such as the EP-3. Sending up escorts would entail a change to the military’s deployment posture, but it is necessary. And it would temper future Chinese aggression. The J-10 is no match for U.S. Air Force F-15s or F-16s, and U.S. Navy F-18s. Nor are Chinese pilots a match for U.S. air crews. Additionally, the U.S. could deploy the 19th Fighter Squadron (F-22s) from Hawaii to Japan or Okinawa. That would really get the Chinese upset.
Still, as I’ve written before, the U.S. must also significantly increase its presence of combat-capable forces in proximity to China. Doing so will show the Chinese regime that we are not blinking — that we are serious. Fortunately, as I explained last week, U.S. carrier strike groups offer prime potential in this regard. Those carriers could provide quick alert HAVCAPs capabilities as well as reminding the Chinese leadership of our power.
Some might say that to escalate is to risk fueling the tensions in the region. This is exactly the wrong idea. The tensions are already there, and are rooted in much more than the presence of U.S. military force. This is about a struggle for international order in the Asia-Pacific. Specifically, whether international order will be subjugated to Chinese imperialism, or whether free commerce and stability will triumph.
If we practice American power in the defense of stability, conflict will be less, not more likely. China, after all, has no desire to go to war with the world’s preeminent military force.
We should never be arrogant, but nor should we forget our own power.