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From here:

In its quest to become a global superpower, China has regularly become entangled in territorial disputes with its neighbors, butting up against international law.

What word would you replace butting up against with to convey the figurative meaning of it?

Some of guesses are: clashing, colliding, opposing, confronting, defying...

Most definitions I found relate to the literal meaning of "two things being physically close to each other".

Thanks!

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    'Confronting' seems to bridge the literal ... metaphorical gap quite well. 'Challenging' is getting more direct. 'Defying' is stark, contentious. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 18 '20 at 14:56
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    In your example you have "against" butting up against "international". – Hot Licks Jun 18 '20 at 15:06
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    @EdwinAshworth For me "butting up against" in this context has the connotation of the interaction being more incidental to the action than 'confronting'. 'challenging' or 'defying'. There is certainly an element of the perpetrator not recognising the validity of international law and of not caring who they upset but the 'butting up' seems to me to be a consequence of the action whereas confrontation, challenge and defiance seem to be at least part of the reason for taking the action. – BoldBen Jun 18 '20 at 15:07
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    @EdwinAshworth For example an industrial worker in the early twentieth century who took a walk on the grouse moors of the English Peak District could be said to have 'butted up against' the laws of trespass but the Mass Trespass on Kinder Scout in 1932 was a deliberate challenge to and defiance of the law and a challenge to the landowners. – BoldBen Jun 18 '20 at 15:12
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    @BoldBen You're saying that the actors in a country are unaware of international laws, when they may have been involved in disputes for many years? If they're consignatories to say UN, they signed up to obey such laws. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 18 '20 at 15:24
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I would say it is no stronger than "coming up against". I think "butting up against" comes from joinery: two thick, blunt ends of wood pressing up against each other.

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  • But Farlex has << butt up against (2) To crash into someone or something >> as well as << (1) To be positioned physically next to someone or something >>. Etymology may inform, but not dictate, meaning. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 18 '20 at 15:27
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The intended image is likely to be of butting heads together, like rams or stags fighting.

"China has regularly become entangled in territorial disputes with its neighbors, clashing with international law"...

(PS: I should add that I don't find the originally text particularly inspiring, and have a sneaking suspicion that "butting up against" is used incorrectly, as I would expect to see that particular expression in situations, for example, where one building or feature is adjacent to another, as in these random examples: "the marquee butting up against the building" / "pedestrian esplanade butting up against the building"...)

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  • Farlex has << butt up against (2) To crash into someone or something >> as well as << (1) To be positioned physically next to someone or something >>. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 18 '20 at 15:29

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