In the fall out of Russia’s seizure of the Crimea, it’s been fair to wonder if the world’s lack of response could lead to other states becoming more aggressive in their own territorial disputes. Well, it appears that those concerns were not unfounded as China has now ratcheted up tensions in the South China Seas by positioning an oil rig on disputed water territories.
The Chinese have towed an oil rig into waters that Vietnam has claimed for itself. And the Chinese aren’t merely looking to park a large piece of equipment in the waters to hang Chinese flags off of. Instead, the Chinese plan to start drilling for oil in the disputed waters, a move that could raise tensions to all new heights, and perhaps even lead to war.
Vietnam beefing up military in response
The Vietnamese appear to be readying to counter Chinese aggression. Vietnam has been increasing its military capacity, and especially naval capabilities. While it might seem far fetched to think that Vietnam would pick a fight with the Chinese, the two countries have fought numerous times over the course of history. The most recent war was in 1979.
And of course, we can’t forget that the Vietnamese were able to defeat an American occupation.
Among other things, the Vietnamese are adding six Kilo-class Russian submarines to its arsenal. Two of the submarines have already been delivered, though they are not yet operational. The Russians are also helping Vietnam set up an anti-ship missile production facility within the country, and have been supplying surface ships. Vietnam has also been evaluating its air force.
China still king of the seas
Regardless of Vietnamese upgrades, China is still the region’s leading military power, challenged only by the United States. While Vietnam is looking to add six submarines to its fleet, the Chinese already have 35. On top of that, the Chinese have 60 some frigates and destroyers.
The only way to buffer Chinese aggression will be if the various countries of South East Asia stand together. Besides Vietnam, China has on-going disputes with the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei. China is also in conflict with Japan, the only regional military with the technology and capacity to challenge the Chinese.
Of course, there are American military interests in the region, and while China has been closing the gap the Chinese military still lags behind its American counterpart. Right now, however, the United States likely lacks the stomach to get involved in another conflict or dispute.