Do you remember when Joe Biden spoke out during the campaign and said that the next American administration would be tested early? That, IMO, is what this incident is all about. The Chinese did the same thing early in the Bush administration, as you'll recall
, only that incident involved planes.
These cat-and-mouse games go on all the time between the superpowers and, yes, we often intentionally provoke a response. During the Cold War, the US and its allies often probed the Soviet defenses to see what they would do. Many believe that the Korean airliner KAL 007 did not inadvertantly stray off the Great Circle route
to Seoul, but intentionally selected a vector that would take it into Soviet airspace over Sakhalin Island. The supposition was that the Soviet response could be ascertained, but that they would not do anything more severe than escort the airliner out of Soviet airspace.
When their fighter pilot instead fired air-to-air missiles into the passenger jet, leading to its catastrophic crash and the loss of all 246 passengers and 23 crew, it became an international incident. The Soviets evidently reacted more severely than usual because they were tired of the provocations, or it could just have been the over-reaction of a single
fighter pilot, but it is thought that the West ceased using non-combatants in the confrontation with the Soviets thereafter, while the Soviets made themselves look foolish by initially denying any knowledge of the downing of the airliner.
The difference today is that the eyeball-to-eyeball stare-downs are no longer with the Soviets (or, more accurately, the Russians now).