On December 5, a Chinese naval vessel tried to force a U.S. warship to stop in international waters in the latest instance of the growing Chinese tendency to flex their muscles.
This incident comes hard on the heels of the situation in the East China Sea region, where Beijing had declared an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) on November 23 which included the Japanese-controlled, but disputed, Senkaku/Diayou islands.
Some alarming analysis suggests that the Chinese may not be above seeking a limited conflict in the region.
According to US officials, the guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens, was confronted by Chinese warships in the South China Sea near Beijing's new aircraft carrier Liaoning.
What appears to have happened is that the US ship had been deputed to tail the Liaoning, which had been carrying out manoeuvres in the East China Sea as part of Beijing's effort to brow-beat Japan over the Senkaku/Diayou islands.
A Chinese navy vessel hailed the Cowpens and ordered it to stop. The ship refused and continued on its course because it was in international waters.
Thereupon a Chinese tank-landing ship came directly into the path of Cowpens and stopped, forcing the American vessel to sharply change course.
The incident took place about 100 nautical miles from the Chinese coast. China's Exclusive Economic Zone, which has been defined under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) goes out 200 nautical miles into the sea.
The US has not ratified UNCLOS, which China, Japan, India and most of the world have, but it says that it generally observes its rules.
As part of these it insists on the unfettered movement of not just its merchant marine, but warships, in the EEZ.
However, China has strongly opposed this interpretation noting that naval vessels' military aircraft by definition do not undertake "innocent passage."
The Chinese have bridled at US intelligence and surveillance ships that keep track of Chinese maritime activity.
US intelligence-gathering ships like the USNS Impeccable and Victorious have faced Chinese harassment regularly over the past few years.
In this instance, there are some who believe that the Chinese may have deliberately staged the incident as part of a larger strategy against Japan and the US.
Dispute: Chinese troops recently apprehended five Indian nationals along with their cattle inside the Indian territory in the Chumar area, a remote village on the Ladakh-Himachal Pradesh border
Two days after the Chinese announced their new ADIZ, the US sent two unarmed B-52 bombers to fly through the zone.
However, it has advised its civilian aircraft to observe the ADIZ and give prior notification of any flights they plan through the ADIZ.
The Japanese have declared that they will not recognise the ADIZ and for their part, the Chinese have in recent days sent in their Su-30 and J-11 fighters, along with their KJ-2000 AWACS aircraft, to show that they intend to monitor the airspace they have declared as part of their ADIZ.
In 1981, when Deng Xiaoping began China's opening to the world, he also enjoined the Chinese to follow what is called the 24 character strategy in its foreign and security policies: "Observe calmly; secure our position; cope with affairs calmly; hide our capabilities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership."
Conversations with Chinese thinktank officials reveal a certain candidness about Beijing's changed global posture which, of course, has implications for India.
They say that the era of the 24 character strategy is over. Indeed, they acknowledge that, as of 2012, they have become more assertive.
However, observers say that the shift began at least five years before that in 2008 when the Chinese government ordered its marine service to begin patrolling the maritime areas claimed by China.
In 2009, it asserted its expansive South China Sea claims when it submitted a map to the UN along with the U-shaped Nine Dash line that comes down to the coast of Brunei.
In 2011, a Chinese ship cut the cable of a seismic survey ship. In 2012, it created a new administrative zone around the city of Sansha to have jurisdiction over the Spratly and Paracel islands.
This was also the year when the Chinese issued a new passport with the map including the ridiculous Nine Dash claim.
The Chinese say that their interests in the East China Sea are what bother them the most because of their proximity to the Chinese heartland.
The South China Sea, they insist, is not a problem area of the same dimension. Beijing's unambiguous goal is to isolate Japan, divide the ASEAN and befuddle the United States.
The tough stance on the Senkaku/Diayou is part of this, and the recent tour of the ASEAN by Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang showed the extent to which the Chinese are willing to go to befriend the region, minus the Philippines.
Even that old and formidable adversary Vietnam is being wooed by Beijing.
As for the United States, its stand on supporting the regional nations is less than clear. It insists that it is neutral when it comes to the maritime disputes, but maintains that it will stand by its treaty allies like Japan and the Philippines in the event of a conflict.
The developments in the East China Sea have important implications for India because we, too, have a major border dispute with China and we have also seen a shift in Beijing's border management policy since 2008.
China has been quick to say that its ADIZ only has implications for its maritime borders, but who is to say that such a maneuver could not be attempted against us?
Actually, what China is doing in the East China Sea is what it did in the Himalayas in 1962: Create and, indeed, push "facts on the ground" which compel the other side to back off, or undertake a confrontation which could lead to war.
India handled things badly then; hopefully the Japanese and the Americans will be more deft.