In an opinion piece for Bloomberg on May 28, 2020, Philip J. Heijmans said the highest risk for US-China military confrontation is in the South China Sea (SCS), but added “A military conflict would probably be devastating for both. There are no signs that either side actually wants one. Still, in times of high tension, miscalculations can have unintended consequences.”

China has been pushing a campaign to establish military, naval and air bases in the SCS, particularly in the Paracels and Spratlys while the US has conducted at least conducted four freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) in the first four months of the year in the SCS, where China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have competing claims.

“It’s a high-stakes game of cat and mouse between the militaries of two countries with a history of near-misses. With President Donald Trump months from an election, and President Xi Jinping rattling nationalistic cages at home to distract from a wounded economy, the mood is less conducive to the careful diplomacy needed to defuse a standoff at sea. Xi used an address Tuesday to delegates at the National People’s Congress in Beijing to again warn the military to strengthen war preparations,”

Heijmans wrote.

“While a premeditated armed conflict between China and the U.S. is a remote possibility, we see their military assets operating in greater regularity and at higher intensity in the same maritime domain,” he quoted Collin Koh Swee Lean, a research fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies as saying. “The interactions of these rival assets in the area would create chances of miscalculation and misjudgment leading to inadvertent or accidental use of force, which is thus potentially incendiary and could result in escalation. This is a risk we can’t discount.”