Tensions between China and the US continue to grow as both nations ramp up military activity in the highly-disputed South China Sea.
Experts have warned the chance of military conflict is increasing as both nations show no signs of flinching. They continue to match their war of words with a flexing of their respective military muscles.
The US has reacted angrily after China fired ballistic missiles into the South China Sea as part of an ongoing live-fire exercise last week.
China's "actions, including missile tests, further destabilise the situation in the South China Sea," the Pentagon said in a statement.
"Such exercises also violate PRC commitments under the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea to avoid activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability," it said, referring to China by the initials of its official name, the People's Republic of China.
One of the missiles, a DF-26, has a range of 4,000km and can be used in nuclear or conventional strikes against targets either on land or water. Other missiles fired are known for their ability to target air-craft carriers.
Over the past decade China has built up military installations on several disputed reefs and outcroppings in the South China Sea to assert its sovereignty over much of the region against territorial claims by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Indonesia.
The US strongly opposes Beijing’s claims of sovereignty in the region.
The latest dispute centres around the disputed Paracel Islands, where the Chinese military has been conducting exercises.
Beijing on Tuesday accused Washington of flying a U-2 spy plane into a no-fly zone to disrupt the drills, which included the ballistic missile launches on Wednesday.
‘No fear’: China’s daunting warning to US
And while Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the ballistic missiles weren’t “targeted at any country”, he lambasted the US for its involvement in waters surrounding China.
“The US has become the saboteur and troublemaker of peace and stability in the South China Sea,” he said on Friday.
On Thursday, China’s Ministry of Defence spokesperson Wu Qian told reporters the US had increased its provocation of China and warned they had “no fear of them”.
“China loves peace, but won’t be scared to fight,” he warned.
“The Chinese military will take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, security, and development interests, and resolutely safeguard world and regional peace and stability.
“China will not dance to the tune of the US.”
Earlier in the week, Mr Wu said the U-2 flight was “a naked act of provocation”.
A day after the missile launches, the US sent a warship near the disputed Paracel Islands.
The US regularly conduct "freedom of navigation operations" in the area to challenge Chinese territorial claims.
The US Navy's Pacific Fleet said in a statement that the USS Mustin, a guided-missile destroyer, sailed on Thursday "in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands to ensure critical shipping lanes in the area remain free and open".
The Chinese military on Friday accused the US ship of entering "China's territorial waters" near the islands "without authorisation".
#USNavy guided-missile destroyer #USSMustin conducts freedom of navigation operation near Paracel Islands in South China Sea: https://t.co/xRJ0UT93w2 #DDG89 #FreeandOpenIndoPacific @US7thFleet pic.twitter.com/0W76xiMtyW
— U.S. Pacific Fleet (@USPacificFleet) August 28, 2020
Expert warns of escalation
On Friday, China continued its high-profile exercises with drills in the Bohai Sea set to last a week while another drill began on Saturday in the Yellow Sea.
Diao Daming, an associate professor at Renmin University’s National Academy of Development and Strategy, told state broadcaster CCTV, the routine exercises were meant to intimidate the US.
“Such drills can make the enemy yield without use of arms,” Diao said, according to the South China Morning Post.
Such exercises showing off its military prowess is a common tactic of China’s and one used in June when its border dispute with India intensified.
Derek Grossman, a security expert from the US think tank Rand said if activity in the South China Sea continued on its current trajectory, a chance of military conflict increases.
“It seems unlikely… that the US military will back down, since there is now a whole-of-government effort to compete with and counter China both regionally and globally,” Mr Grossman told the South China Morning Post.
He said a missile deployed by China runs the risk of striking a US Navy vessel in the region.
“If China were to fire another DF-21D missile, and it came close to a US carrier traversing the region, the US military might respond with force because it thought the missile simply missed its target,” Mr Grossman said.
“Then the situation could escalate from there.”
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