China is willing to start a nuclear war with the United States over the South China Sea, according to a Chinese professor.(C) Analysis by Spaceknow, Imagery by PlanetLabs 2015
Beijing’s rhetoric after an incident with a U.S. warship sailed to the South China Sea suggests that Chinese decision-makers could resort to more “concrete and forceful measures” to counter the U.S. Navy, according to Zhang Baohui, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Centre for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong.
“If so, a face-off between the two navies becomes inevitable. Even worse, the face-off may trigger an escalation towards military conflicts,” the professor wrote in a piece for RSIS Commentary.
But, according to Baohui, the U.S. military is “oblivious” to this scenario, since Washington decision-makers think America’s conventional military superiority discourages China from responding to such “provocations” in the South China Sea militarily. However, this “U.S. expectation is flawed, as China is a major nuclear power,” the professor wrote.
“When cornered, nuclear-armed states can threaten asymmetric escalation to deter an adversary from harming its key interests,” he added.
Baohui then refers to the military parade in Beijing that took place on Sept. 3 and revealed that China’s new generation of tactical missiles – such as the DF-26 – are capable of being armed with nuclear warheads. Moreover, according to the latest reports, China’s air-launched long-range cruise missiles can also carry tactical nuclear warheads.
U.S. could provoke nuclear war with China
And while the U.S. does not have its core interests in the South China Sea, the disputed islands present China’s strategic interests, which is why this kind of asymmetry in stakes would certainly give Beijing an advantage in “the balance of resolve” over Washington, according to the professor. And if the South China Sea situation escalates and starts spiraling into a nuclear confrontation between the U.S. and China, Washington will face a choice of either backing down first or fighting a nuclear-armed power and the world’s largest military force with a strength of approximately 2.285 million personnel.
“Neither option is attractive and both exact high costs, either in reputation or human lives, for the U.S.,” Baohui wrote.
So it would be unwise for the U.S. to further provoke China in the disputed area, since China’s willingness to defend its interests, reputation and deterrence credibility could easily escalate the conflict into a military confrontation that would ultimately harm U.S. interests, according to the professor.
China will join Russia in nuclear war with NATO
With NATO member state Turkey downing a Russian jet in its airspace, there is already a high risk of military confrontation in the world. And with China being so close and allied with Russia, Beijing decision-makers could see the incident with the Russian warplane as an opportunity to avenge the West for the South China Sea provocations.
The Turkish military said it had shot down a Russian jet on Tuesday, triggering a furious response from Moscow and escalating the already hot tensions in the Syrian conflict. With Russian President Vladimir Putin warning the West of “serious consequences,” analysts believe the Kremlin is willing to unleash a nuclear war over the incident.
Despite the fact that Turkey is backed by NATO’s 5th Article, which states that an attack on one Ally shall be considered an attack on all NATO members, the chances that Putin will start a nuclear war over the incident with the Russian jet are very “likely,” according to Pavel Felgengauer, Russia’s most respected military analyst.
Felgengauer said Turkey wants to protect a zone in northern Syria controlled by the Turkmens, Ankara’s allies, while the downing of the Russian warplane in the region must prompt the Kremlin to either accept the zone or “start a war with Turkey,” which means starting an all-out war with NATO. And the only way Russia could win a war against NATO is by going nuclear, Felgengauer said.
“It is most likely that it will be war,” said Felgenhauer, as reported by Mirror. “In other words, more fights will follow when Russian planes attack Turkish aircraft in order to protect our [Russia’s] bombers. It is possible that there will be fights between the Russian and Turkish navies at sea.”
U.S. provokes China to respond militarily
The U.S. recently asserted its freedom of navigation in the disputed South China Sea. On Oct. 27, the USS Lassen traveled inside the 12-mile nautical zone around Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands archipelago. This reef is one of seven reefs China has artificially built in order to claim its sovereignty over the Spratly Islands and the sea around it.
Even though Beijing did not take immediate action to counter the U.S. vessel, such further “provocations” could seriously destabilize the peace and stability of the whole region, according to Baohui.
“They could touch off an unintended escalation and push the two countries towards military conflict. The logic is quite obvious,” the professor wrote.
The U.S. Navy’s further operations in the South China Sea could thus corner Beijing and force China to respond militarily. After all, China cannot risk its national interests and power reputation, according to the Chinese professor. Shortly after the incident, Vice-Admiral Yi Xiaoguang, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) deputy chief of staff, warned that China “will use all means necessary to defend its sovereignty” if the U.S. conducts similar provocations.
China: we can seize more islands in the South China Sea
China recently said it can use military force to kick out nations illegally to seize more islands in the disputed South China Sea, but China is now showing restraint, as reported by ValueWalk last week.
“The Chinese government has the right and the ability to recover the islands and reefs illegally occupied by neighboring countries,” Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said, speaking about the disputed artificial islands but not naming any particular country.
China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei all have sovereignty claims in the South China Sea. All but Brunei have military fortifications in the disputed area, which raises concerns about a high risk of military confrontation in the region.
“But we haven’t done this [seized the islands]. We have maintained great restraint with the aim to preserve peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Liu said.
If China gains complete control over the Spratly Islands, it gets the key to controlling waters through which $5 trillion in trade passes every year, mostly to and from China.
The professor concluded that reckless actions by one or both parties may well turn mistrust into “bloody military conflicts.” But nobody, especially countries in the region, are interested in such a scenario.
“If the US claims to be the defender of world peace and regional stability, it must do everything to avoid this scenario through unintended escalations,” Baohui wrote.