Chinese soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army Navy stand guard in the Spratly Islands, known in China as the Nansha Islands, on February 10. The Spratlys are the most contested archipelago in the South China Sea. Stringer/Reuters
Roughly 15 years ago, a Chinese fighter jet pilot was killed when he collided with an American spy plane over the South China Sea. The episode marked the start of tensions between Beijing and Washington over China’s claim to the strategic waterway. So in May, when two Chinese warplanes nearly crashed into an American spy plane over the same area, many in China felt a familiar sense of nationalist outrage. “Most Chinese people hope China’s fighter jets will shoot down the next spy plane,” wrote the Global Times, China’s official nationalist mouthpiece.
Though little talked about in the West, many Chinese officials have long felt that war between Washington and Beijing is inevitable. A rising power, the thinking goes, will always challenge a dominant one. Of course, some analysts dismiss this idea; the costs of such a conflict would be too high, and the U.S., which is far stronger militarily, would almost certainly win. Yet history is riddled with wars that appeared to make no sense. Continue reading