Tension is mounting in Northeast Asia as the US flew two nuclear-capable B-52 bombers through what China has recently designated as an air defence zone, apparently to protest the unilateral demarcation.
Taking off from their home base of Guam, the unarmed strategic bombers on Tuesday flew through China's air defence identification zone without prior notice and returned to base.
Washington officials cast the deployment simply as part of the long-planned training mission. But analysts say it was an apparent show of force against Beijing's unilateral pursuit of interests in aerial and maritime domains.
America's major concern as to China's increasing assertiveness is that based on its growing military might, the ascendant power would attempt to alter the norms and "rule-based" order that have maintained the status quo.
In particular, Washington has voiced its worries that Beijing, with its aggressive military strategy, could undermine the protection of "global commons" such as unfettered freedom of navigation and commerce in the region where vital sea lanes of communication converge.
"This announcement (of the air defence zone) from the Chinese government was unnecessarily inflammatory," White House deputy spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
"There are regional disputes in that part of the world and those disputes should be resolved diplomatically."
China's demarcation of the air zone, announced last Saturday, appeared designed to back up its claim to the East China Sea island chain called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
But the dispute is apparently escalating into major-power strong-arming with the US, which has explicitly supported Japan's administrative control of the islands that are in a strategically crucial point for China to project its power further into the Pacific.