The Sino-US ‘Cat-and-Mouse’ Game Concerning Freedom of Navigation and Flights: An Analysis of Chinese Perspectives

Ji You*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


US surveillance operations in the Chinese Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and entry into the 12 NM of China-held reefs in the South China Sea have met with aggressive People’s Liberation Army intercepts. This ‘cat-and-mouse’ game is a symptom of the structural conflict of interests that define enduring Sino-US tension. On the other hand, both Washington and Beijing have tried to strike a subtle balance between maintaining a broadly-based bilateral relationship, demonstrating resolve in protecting their vital interests and formulating crisis management measures to avoid an irreversible free fall in the bilateral ties with grave regional impact. This dictates a unique and dynamic action/reaction pattern by the two militaries in the South China Sea and China’s EEZ. This paper aims to reconstruct this pattern of contention and the trend of evolution. It argues that although the two countries have prioritised maintenance of a workable Sino-US relationship among different strategic considerations, the on-the-spot encounters may trigger some standoffs that may put the bilateral relationship under great stress. Crisis management is the key for this cat-and-mouse game to be under control, but it will become increasingly more difficult in the years to come.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)637-661
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Strategic Studies
Issue number5-6
Publication statusPublished - 18 Sept 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Asian maritime conflicts
  • PLA air defense identification zone
  • Sino-US military relations
  • US freedom of navigation


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