China's growing military strength and recklessness in the South China Sea made it likely that "a major incident or accident" would occur there, warned U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Ely Ratner on July 26.

China could be seen "combining its growing military power with greater willingness to take risks," he said. If the "unsafe and unprofessional behavior" continued, "it is only a matter of time before there is a major incident or accident in the region," Ratner said. He made the comments at a conference held by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.

'A test of our collective resolve'

Ratner mentioned dangerous encounters that Australian and Canadian aircraft had experienced with Chinese forces. He said China was "systematically testing the limits of our collective resolve." The Pentagon viewed the situation in the South China Sea not as an isolated challenge but as reflecting "a unified strategic approach by Beijing that spans the Indo-Pacific," Ratner said.

He outlined the Pentagon's following four priorities in countering China in the Indo-Pacific:

  • "Bolstering our partners’ self-defense capabilities in the South China Sea and across the region."
  • The development of "a combat-credible forward presence" in the Indo-Pacific.
  • The forming of stronger "alliances and partnerships" of countries in the region which shared American "security and economic goals."
  • The strengthening of efforts to address "gray zone actions."

Ratner's comments can be read in their entirety at the CSIS website.

'Just another hype'

The Global Times, a pro-Beijing English-language Chinese daily, said Ratner's warning of an eventual incident was "just another hype of the so-called China threat theory that would give the US an excuse to intervene in the Asia-Pacific region, including the South China Sea, and advance its Indo-Pacific Strategy."

The paper quoted Zhang Tengjun, of the China Institute of International Studies, as saying Ratner had "limited knowledge but deep-rooted convictions about China." The paper said the United States was the one bringing instability to the region.

No comment on Pelosi's trip

Ratner said he would not comment on reports of a planned visit to Taiwan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He noted that Congress was "an independent and co-equal branch" of the government and lawmakers made "their own decisions about their travel plans."

The day before Ratner's speech, The New York Times reported that U.S.

President Joe Biden was increasingly worried about China's response to such a trip. The paper said Biden had been trying to persuade Pelosi not to go ahead with the trip.

A trip to Taiwan would not be the first time Pelosi had risked incurring the wrath of China. Two years after the violent suppression of 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, Pelosi went to the square to protest to hold a banner which read "To those who died for democracy." In 2020, she posted a video of that protest on Twitter.

Pelosi was receiving encouragement for a trip to Taiwan from figures from both the Republican and the Democratic Party, NBC reported.

The breath of support for such a trip was making it difficult to de-escalate the tension between China and the United States, The Guardian reported.

The paper quoted Bonnie Glaser, of the German Marshall Fund, as saying Chinese President Xi Jinping "can't be seen as weak on this."