Chinese military officers were likely to square up to the United States in talks at the Pentagon over the rules of behaviour between the two countries' armed forces, mainland analysts said.
The talks, which began yesterday, were originally agreed as an attempt to improve military ties, but observers said they would be overshadowed by mutual suspicion reflected in the close encounter last week between a Chinese fighter jet and a US Navy surveillance plane in international airspace off Hainan.
"China will likely be hitting back at US criticism and maintain that it is legitimate for the Chinese military to take action if it believes national security is under threat," said Yue Gang, a military commentator and retired PLA colonel.
Beijing was expected to tell Washington that foreign military planes flying within its economic zone, or within 200 nautical miles of the coast of China, would be deemed as putting national security at risk, Yue said.
The talks are the latest contact between the two militaries designed to contain the risk of confrontation as China flexes its military muscle and plays a bigger security role in the Asia-Pacific region, resulting in more encounters with US forces.
Beijing and Washington exchanged tough rhetoric but gave contrasting accounts of the encounter eight days ago between a US Navy P-8 Poseidon antisubmarine and reconnaissance plane and a Chinese J-11 jet over the South China Sea.
The Pentagon said the jet came within nine metres of the US aircraft and that Chinese aircraft had made three other close intercepts this year. The Defence Ministry in Beijing said the US allegations were "totally untenable".
A US State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said Washington operated "in a transparent manner". "We make other countries, including China, aware of our plans," she said.
Ni Lexiong, a Shanghai-based military affairs commentator, said Chinese military officials would demand that US aircraft do not "provoke" China.
"The basic message is that China will take actions to protect its interests, even though Beijing is willing to continue dialogue with the US," he said.
Yue said a series of incidents between the two militaries had pushed them to increase dialogue, reducing the risk of military miscalculation.
The guided-missile cruiser USS Cowpens and a PLA vessel accompanying China's sole aircraft carrier the Liaoning nearly collided in December. "Both sides need to tell each other that they have no intention of challenging the other side," said Yue.