The Pentagon revealed Thursday that China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) "warning" to the US on Wednesday involved the firing of “four medium-range missiles into [an] area between Hainan and the Paracel Islands,” a defense official was quoted in FT.
Among them included nuclear-capable DF-26 missile and the anti-ship DF-21D ballistic missile. Beijing said they demonstrated the PLA's ability to deny outside military access to the South China Sea.
The missiles were fired in response to the major incident from Tuesday, wherein China's PLA military angrily charged that a US U-2 spy plane entered a 'no-fly zone' off China's coast while the PLA conducted live-fire military drills.
The PLA has since ratcheted up its drills, with FT reporting Thursday the military "announced it was conducting another live fire exercise in waters off the eastern city of Taizhou, bringing the number of drills off its coast this week to five."
Defense Secretary Mark Esper, meanwhile, vowed the US would never “cede an inch” in the Pacific and accused China of ultimately putting soldiers' lives at risk with its hugely escalatory actions.
Ironically this is precisely what China accused the US of doing on Tuesday with the U-2 flyover. It's defense ministry had issued what appeared veiled threat saying an “unexpected incident” could have easily resulted over the US spy plane operation.
Esper said in Wednesday comments: “To advance the CCP’s agenda, the People’s Liberation Army continues to pursue an aggressive modernization plan to achieve a world class military by the middle of the century.”
He said this on the same day the Trump administration blacklisted 24 Chinese companies also along with targeted individuals related to their construction activities which assist the PLA in their South China Sea territorial ambitions and expansionist claims.
“This will undoubtedly involve the PLA’s provocative behavior in the South and East China Seas, and anywhere else the Chinese government has deemed critical to its interests,” Esper added.
With all of this building tension now showing itself in US spy missions and reactionary PLA missile firings into the South China Sea, the situation is indeed dangerous and ripe for a dreaded “unexpected incident” scenario which China watchers have long warned about, or rather, barreling toward a Thucydides Trap.
And if that seems overly alarmist, consider this: “The US Navy has 38 ships under way in the Indo-Pacific region right now, and we will continue to sail, fly and operate wherever international law allows. Our naval forces remain ready to respond to any threat to our allies and partners” — Vice-Admiral Scott Conn, commander of the US Navy’s Third Fleet, boastfully stated.