As the U.S. Defense Department prepares to release its annual China Military Power report (CMPR), officials said the Chinese military has been engaged in "a centralized and concerted campaign" to perform risky behaviors in the Indo-Pacific region to "coerce a change" in operational activities by the U.S. and its allies.
Meanwhile, Washington has renewed its call for military-to-military communication with China to prevent inadvertent conflicts. Senior defense officials from the two countries are expected to join their counterparts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for meetings in mid-November in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Tuesday, senior U.S. defense officials said there has been "a sharp increase" in coercive and risky behaviors by China's People's Liberation Army in the East and South China Seas.
"Specifically, since the fall of 2021, we have seen more than 180 such incidents; more in the past two years than in the decade before that," Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Ely Ratner said on Tuesday. He cited newly declassified photographs and videos by the U.S. military.
Regarding "cases of coercive and risky PLA intercepts against other states, the number increases to nearly 300 cases against U.S. ally and partner aircraft over the last two years," Ratner added.
On Monday, a Canadian military plane was intercepted by Chinese fighter jets over international waters, an incident the Canadian government called dangerous and reckless.
In May, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command released a video of a Chinese PLA aircraft speeding alongside an American aircraft before cutting in front of it over the South China Sea in international airspace. A Chinese J-16 aircraft pilot flew directly in front of the nose of the RC-135, forcing the U.S. aircraft to fly through its wake turbulence.
"I think the [CMPR] report assesses that this is a part of a strategy by the PRC," said commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Admiral John Aquilino, referring to the People's Republic of China.
Aquilino said open lines of communication between the two militaries are crucial to avoid an accident. He said he has extended repeated invitations for talks over the past 2-1/2 years to his Chinese counterpart.
"One accident is too many. We went through it in 2001," he added.
Aquilino was referring to a collision in April 2001 between a U.S. Navy EP-3 reconnaissance plane and a PLA naval F-8 fighter.
China asserts sovereignty over nearly the entire South China Sea, a resource-rich waterway with competing territorial claims from several other countries. Beijing has consistently stated that the deployment of U.S. ships and aircraft over the South China Sea is detrimental to regional peace.
China will "continue to take necessary measures to resolutely defend its sovereignty and security, and work with regional countries to firmly safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea," Liu Pengyu, spokesperson for China's embassy in Washington has said.
"We watch very closely the cooperation" between China and Russia, Aquilino said when asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Beijing this week.
Putin's expected meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping came after the two announced their no-limits partnership amid Russia's war on Ukraine.
"The inability to denounce bad actions globally and their increased cooperation in exercises" are "certainly concerning," Aquilino told reporters.