The report, which no doubt is also intended as a warning, said the unexpected surge of hawkish fervor focused on Beijing out of Washington has only served to make the Chinese defense establishment respond in the same measure.

“Direct China-US military conflicts, or even the severance of diplomatic ties, which used to be unimaginable, are being discussed more frequently by the mainstream media outlets and scholars, so the danger of military conflicts exists and is growing,” Jin Canrong, associate dean of Renmin University of China’s School of International Studies in Beijing, was cited as saying.

He explained further “Unfortunately, there is [possibility of an armed confrontation]. Nobody wants it, and everybody would lose if a war erupts. But if you look at what happened in World War I, for example, it was started by a little event, and then the larger countries quickly became involved even though they had not planned to.”

The publication also emphasized the fact that both are nuclear armed, making large-scale war less likely in the end. But it cited a separate analyst to point out that “If there is a little scuffle in the South China Sea, it could soon escalate. And if the countries fail to control it, it could be devastating and everybody would lose. It is very scary.”

Also citing that the US Air Force and Navy has conducted at least 60 close proximity reconnaissance operations with large aircraft in the South China Sea, GT explored the likelihood of an “isolated” encounter which grows to a small then medium-sized conflict. Will all-out war then able to be contained? - it asked.

Beiing-based South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative (SCSPI) told GT that we are much closer than ever before to such a possibility:

Rumors say the US could launch attacks on Chinese islands and reefs in the South China Sea, but “this is basically impossible, as the US knows this will lead to an all-out war,” Hu said.

However, the possibility of small and medium-sized clashes, which could involve ship collisions and occasional firing incidents, is rising, Hu said, noting that the uncertainties mainly come from the US, including its upcoming presidential election, influence of domestic hard-liners, and potential escalations of aircraft and vessel encounters in the South China Sea.

Another analyst quoted in the report said that it’s Taiwan that actually remains the most potentially explosive issue, given recent Congressional authorization to boost military support to the breakaway island.

This is because China simply won’t budge no matter the context and risk of war when it comes to Taiwan and the question of sovereignty: “But there is no room for Chinese policymakers to compromise on sovereignty and security issues. The US could face a direct military operation from the PLA if it provokes China,” the analyst said.