Washington: Since commissioning its first aircraft carrier, China's navy has conducted more exercises farther away from its shores and flexing its muscle by closely patrolling areas in disputed waters where Chinese companies are drilling for oil, a top US Air Force commander has said.
Air Force General Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle, the head of US 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 was quoted as saying by the Washington Post.
"They still talk about this as their great nation. And they want to continue to demonstrate that," he said.
Carlisle said US 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 Liaoning, its first aircraft carrier in 2012, 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 US military in turn to deploy its ships and reconnaissance aircraft to keep a close watch.
"All of that makes their tension go up a little bit," he said.
One such encounter got out of hand in August, when a Chinese J-11 fighter jet flashed past a Navy Poseidon P-8 patrol aircraft, and bringing its wingtip within 20 feet of the US plane.
The incident occurred during a tense period in the South China Sea, where Beijing's territorial claims over several resource-rich shoals overlap with those of neighbouring nations like Vietnam and the Philippines.
In May, China placed an oil rig in waters claimed by Vietnam, which set off a round of anti-Chinese protests and deadly riots in Vietnam. China removed the rig later.
Carlisle was more measured in his assessment, saying that there has always been "an ebb and flow" in the number of Chinese intercepts and that he did not think China's military leadership was looking to provoke a conflict.
"I personally don't think it needs to get too much hype," said Carlisle, who will leave his post in the Pacific this month to take a new assignment as chief of the Air Force's Air Combat Command at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia.
But he acknowledged that "the opportunity for something to go wrong" will likely increase as China's military gathers strength and moves farther afield.
To prevent such incidents, the Pentagon has tried to enhance communications channels and expand formal ties with the People's Liberation Army in recent years. Although US officials said progress has been made, they said that they did not expect to solve the issue overnight. PTI