Malaysia believes Beijing scrambled 16 aircraft near its sovereign airspace last week, prompting outrage. China has disputed this, with a military source insisting only two planes were involved.
The United States Air Force has supported the Royal Malaysian Air Force account of the Chinese incursion.
An officer from the Pacific Air Forces public affairs department told This Week In Asia: “We support our partners in the Royal Malaysian Air Force and encourage [China] to respect the sovereignty of all nations.”
US Pacific Air Forces insisted the number of Chinese aircraft was “closer to what the Royal Malaysian Air Force is tracking”, with the spokesman refusing to “get into the specifics about our collection methods” because of “operational security concerns”.
When asked about the incident during a media teleconference on Friday, Pacific Air Forces Commander, General Ken Wilsbach said the number of Chinese aircraft involved was probably “not as close to the Chinese number as what the Chinese said it was” but he said he needed to “go back to our sources to get the exact number”.
Chinese state media, The Global Times, published an op-ed suggesting Beijing must prepare for “an intense showdown” with the US – and a nuclear war.
Editor Hu Xijin wrote: “We must be prepared for an intense showdown between China and the US.
“The number of China’s nuclear warheads must reach the quantity that makes US elites shiver should they entertain the idea of engaging in a military confrontation with China.”
He also voiced his support for “rapidly” building up the number of commissioned nuclear warheads.