QED

China’s Implacable Belligerence

china troopsChina’s preoccupation with its past humiliation by foreign powers didn’t start with the communists: a public holiday, National Humiliation Day, was instituted by the Nationalists in 1927. Similarly, Chinese irredentism isn’t just a recent phenomenon.  Chinese primary school textbooks from 1938 have a map of China that extends well beyond its current borders in all directions.  Now the map in Chinese passports includes the South China Sea as Chinese territory, as well as parts of India on its northern border.

The current situation is that China is in the process of completing bases on seven artificial islands in the South China Sea. Three of those bases will have 3,000-metre airstrips with attendant taxiways and aprons.  Most of the bases include flak towers. Similarly, most of the bases have ramps up to the first level of their forts, probably so that mobile radars get some elevation and have a greater range.

China claims all of the islands and reefs of the South China Sea and about 90% of that sea’s area as sovereign Chinese territory. In practice that will mean non-Chinese ships and aircraft will have to ask for Chinese permission to cross.  Non-Chinese military ships and aircraft will not be allowed at all. Enforcement of the Chinese claim will mean that China will remove the Vietnamese, Filipino and Malaysian bases from the South China Sea, killing Vietnamese, Filipinos and Malaysians in the process.  Everyone in the region understands that this is what is going to happen if China isn’t stopped.

In the East China Sea, China claims the Senkaku Islands, and Chinese academics have put forward a case that China is also the rightful owner of the Ryuku chain right up to Kyushu. China has built a ten-pad expeditionary helicopter base in the Nanji Islands for the attack on the Senkakus as well as an airbase on a ridge on the mainland.

All these things were in train before President Xi assumed power in 2013.  What Xi did was to make war inevitable by ramping up the nationalist rhetoric.  He has burnt his bridges. China can’t back down now without losing face and risk de-legitimising of Communist Party rule of China.  For there not to be a war requires the nations of Southeast Asia to withdraw from their bases in the South China Sea when directed to do so and accept subjugation by the Chinese hegemon.  Most likely they will put up some resistance, especially Vietnam.

There is at least one party which will come to the aid of the Southeast Asian nations at this point.  That is Japan.  Japan realises that once China has subjugated the countries on the periphery of the South China Sea, it will be next on China’s agenda.  Japan is far better off fighting China in concert with the Southeast Asians than alone.  That is why Prime Minister Abe pushed through the change to the Japanese constitution that allows Japan to come to the aid of another party.  The other party in this case will be the Philippines with which Japan has concluded basing arrangements.  Japan is too proud to accept subjugation by China. China can’t back down.  It therefore follows that war is inevitable.

The party that hasn’t been mentioned so far is the United States, which at the moment is preparing to send a fleet close by China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea. By doing so before the bases are completed and fully operational, the US is signalling that it considers the Chinese claims are not legitimate.

Under Barack Obama, the US is just too flaky to be relied upon.  Washington has stated that the Senkaku Islands are covered by its defence treaty with Japan, but does not recognise any country’s claims in the South China Sea.  That will be too late for Japan which cannot risk being left high and dry by Obama.  Japan has much to fear, as we all do, but will likely prevail against China simply by running a blockade of Chinese shipping.  In its desperation, China is likely to threaten Japan with nuclear attack.  That’s when the future gets murky.  Up until that point, everything is fairly clear.

The long run of peace due to the post-World War II nuclear standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union is over. Australia is ill-prepared for what is coming.  Apart from a miniscule army, we have only a fraction of the tanks, artillery and war stocks that we need. We import 90% of our transport fuels, and half of that from refineries in the region in which this war will be fought.  It is a parlous position to be in, due to neglect and great stupidity.

David Archibald is the author of Australia’s Defence (Connor Court 2015).

 

8 comments
  • [email protected]

    Now that Chairman Malcolm has embraced the late and murderous Chairman Mao as an example of how to advance your people, we can hardly expect any real resistance from Australia to this Chinese belligerence. Further, we are becoming more and more dependent upon China for trade which, on the surface, should be a good thing but that dependency makes us more likely to avoid any confrontation.

    Accepting that China has embarked upon this expansionary approach, and are being quite belligerent about their intentions, raises the question as to why they are behaving this way when their whole history has been one of non-expansion. Is it born of an inferiority complex which drives them to prove they are at least the equal of the US?

  • [email protected]

    Now that Chairman Malcolm has embraced the late and murderous Chairman Mao as an example of how to advance your people, we can hardly expect any real resistance from Australia to this Chinese belligerence. Further, we are becoming more and more dependent upon China for trade which, on the surface, should be a good thing but that dependency makes us more likely to avoid any confrontation.

    Accepting that the Chinese have embarked upon this expansionary approach, and are being quite belligerent about their intentions, raises the question as to why they are behaving this way when their whole history has been one of non-expansion. Is it born of an inferiority complex which drives them to prove they are at least the equal of the US?

  • [email protected]

    Call me a masochist – but I just love this.
    I was just reading about Putin exploring the cutting of communication cable across the Atlantic.
    Here we are with our jugulars stretched out all around the world – and almost complete indifference and complacency.
    “We import 90% of our transport fuels …”
    It is all there for anyone to see – but no one appears to be looking.

    • pgang

      You love this? Will you love it when Sydney is a smoking crater?

  • en passant

    Thanks to a series of ineffective Defence Ministers (a tradition carried on by President Mao, sorry PM Mal with his most recent Payneful appointment to the post) our ADF is in disarray and incapable of fielding more that 2,000 – 3,000 for operations. That must worry the Chinese even less that the US Poodle of a President.
    Australia has lost its way and may never recover the peace and laid back comfort we once knew. It will take more than a few good men (and women) to turn this country around – and there is no sign that that will happen in my lifetime after 40-years of inexorable decline.

  • David Archibald

    From Strategy Page yesterday:
    The Philippines and its closest neighbors are slowly losing control of their offshore waters to increasingly aggressive Chinese claims. The Philippines faces losing control of 80 percent of its waters in the West Philippine Sea while Malaysia loses 80 percent of its coastal waters off Sabah and Sarawak. Vietnam loses half its coastal waters while Brunei loses 90 percent. Even Indonesia loses 30 percent of its coastal waters facing the South China Sea. These losses include several known offshore oil and natural gas fields and a number of areas that have not been explored yet plus lucrative fishing grounds and control over vital shipping routes. China is going all this by ignoring the 1994 Law of the Sea treaty (as well as at least two other similar treaties. The widely adopted (including by China) 1994 agreement recognizes the waters 22 kilometers from land “national territory” and under the jurisdiction of the nation controlling the nearest land. That means ships cannot enter these “territorial waters” without permission. More importantly the waters 360 kilometers from land are considered the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the nation controlling the nearest land. The EEZ owner can control who fishes there and extracts natural resources (mostly oil and gas) from the ocean floor. But the EEZ owner cannot prohibit free passage or the laying of pipelines and communications cables.

    And we are getting a free trade agreement with these people?

  • [email protected]

    Thank you David Archibald for so elegantly detailing this tens and foreboding situation. It demotes most everything else to the status of little consequence.

  • Simon

    Surely, a nuclear threat would be inconceivable in this day and age, unless it came from the lunatic fringe like Pakistan or IS? And surely China is now too far down the road of market forces and the economy to contemplate any real aggression, let alone nuclear armageddon?

    Maybe I’m giving far too much credence to what is still a communist dictatorship. All I can say is I hope not.

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