Could South China Tension Spark US-China War?

MaoNo / Pixabay

Activities in the South China Sea are ramping up tension between the United States and China, with some concern that warfare is possible. As the East Asian economic powerhouse becomes increasingly emboldened, the hierarchy of the nation has warned that conflict between the two nations is inevitable unless the United States adopts a non-interventionist policy. Certainly the relationship between the world’s two largest economies has deteriorated significantly in recent months.

China enhances offensive potential

The Chinese government has indicated that it is now focusing less on the defensive capabilities and more in stepping up its offensive potential, as it becomes increasingly irritated by US manoeuvres in the region. At present, China is significantly building armed force, with the intention of developing the ability to utilize it beyond its own borders.

Central to this process has been the construction of artificial islands in the disputed Spratly Islands. Despite warnings from the Chinese government, United States military planes last week flew reconnaissance missions over these disputed islands with the aim of better understanding Chinese intentions. Construction in the area includes runways and port facilities that have the potential to house military planes and warships.

United States rhetoric

In response to the warnings from Beijing, that United States secretary of defence, Ashton Carter, was adamant that the US administration would not recognize the artificial islands as no-fly zones controlled by a nation. Carter underlined the determination of the United States to protect the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, and that the United States was acting under international convention.

It is debatable whether this particular argument stands up to scrutiny, or whether the United States was really protecting its own interests. Those with a keen interest in geopolitics increasingly see it as inevitable that that United States and China will clash in the coming years. China is part of the increasingly influential BRICS group, a commingled organization of supportive nations which intends to challenge the traditional Anglo-American / EU-NATO political and economic consensus.

BRICS in the wall

The BRICS have already announced plans to develop their own central bank, which would operate outside of the existing Bank for International Settlements superstructure. It is this which could perhaps be cited as the central reason for US interest in the behaviour of China, along with other strategic interests related to the development of the nation as a genuine superpower, as opposed to supposed concern of the sovereignty of the South China Sea region.

Spratly Islands stand-off intensifies

Regardless of this, it would be fair to assert that China’s actions in the South Sea region could be interpreted as inflammatory. According to sources close to China, the nation has no intention of ceasing its construction of the artificial islands in this region, and will similarly not tolerate any interference by what it considers to be external actors. With neither the United States nor China seemingly willing to back down over this issue, there have been suggestions that even a minor incident around these artificial islands could escalate rapidly into full-scale conflict.

Considering the tension in the region, and between the two nations, it is perhaps not surprising that other news stories have emerged which will only add to this diplomatic situation. Considering the South China Sea stand-off, the recent extradition of a Chinese fugitive from the United States is an interesting and valid footnote in the situation.

Chinese extradition

The individual in question has been named as the most wanted fugitive in China, and is accused of embezzling more than $40 million. According to Chinese state media, Yang Xiuzhu was able to amass a vast fortune in relation to numerous construction projects when operating as a deputy mayor of Wenzhou in east China in the 1990s.

Yang had left China in 2003, but had been detained in the United States after entering the nation with an illegitimate Dutch passport just last year. Yang tops a list of 100 suspects that China wishes to extradite from other nations, and had evidently gone into hiding after learning that she was being pursued by anti-corruption investigators in the world’s most populous nation.

The issue will strengthen Chinese efforts to push for talks on an extradition treaty, which would enable China to boost its prosecution efforts for fugitives across the world. China claims that there are more than 150 economic fugitives currently resident in the United States, and it seeks an agreement on advancing the justice process related to these individuals.

Refusal of the United States to cooperate could naturally increase tensions between the nations. And this would seem to be a fairly likely prospect considering that the US will not wish to appear weak in the face of what it deems to be provocation in the South China Sea. However, its position could be relatively weak with regard to this issue, as the US policy of extradition during both the Bush and Obama administrations – related, of course, to the War on Terror – is extremely well publicized.

Chinese student expulsions and FIFA corruption

Meanwhile, as the highly public story of 15 Chinese students being expelled from a United States University for cheating reaches mass circulation, it has emerged that some 8,000 Chinese students were expelled from American universities last year alone. The enthusiasm that the Chinese government has displayed for advancing higher education in the nation is well-documented, but evidently Chinese students still have some way to go to match their American counterparts.

And relations between the BRICS nations and the United States will hardly be improved by the recent revelations related to the soccer governing body FIFA. With the selection process for both the Russian and Qatari World Cups now open to corruption investigations, the issue has provoked a strong response from the Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Russian supremo has suggested the United States has illegally persecuted people in relation to this investigation, and that the response to an issue was “an obvious attempt [by the United States] to spread their jurisdiction to other countries”.

Chinese defend actions

As the issue continues to cause concerns, China’s ambassador to the United States has strongly defended its actions in the region. Cui Tiankai has attempted to dampen down the situation, while at the same time suggesting that the United States is in the wrong.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Tiankai suggested that the United States had significantly over-reacted to the situation, and that its reconnaissance missions were escalating what is already a tense situation. Tiankai stated that the recent behaviour in the South China Sea, coupled with the rhetoric from the Obama Administration, was souring US-China relations, which he painted as being the most important bilateral relationship in the world. Tiankai cited understanding with trade, global terrorism and climate change as evidence of a positive relationship between the nations, and hoped that regional stability could be achieved in the foreseeable future.

The Stakes in the South China Sea

While it is tempting to see the activity in the South China Sea region in terms of right and wrong, the reality is that two powerful nations are effectively engaged in sabre rattling. This is pretty much an inevitability, as geopolitical analysts have predicted for many years that the United States and China would eventually come to blows as the world’s two most powerful nations and economic forces.

This latest incident is merely a manifestation of this process, and probably shouldn’t lead to an escalated conflict in the region, or in wider theaters. But considering the military might of both nations and the potential consequences of any military conflict, we can only hope that a diplomatic solution is successfully sought.

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About the Author

Christopher Morris
Christopher Morris is a passionate player of video games since the days of Space Invaders, and is extensively published on the subjects of Business, Technology and Politics. Chris also contributes to Yahoo.

33 Comments on "Could South China Tension Spark US-China War?"

  1. Oh come on, Eddie! ‘The US has no role in this’? Sure they do. That’s what they do! If they have no role they will make one!!

  2. The Chinese and you have one thing in common: The same Middle Age mentality: land grabbing forever. Why was the U.N. created in the first place if not to stop the perpetual invasion wars between nations? Read the U.N. Charter to educate yourself. Pathetic!!!!

  3. The Europeans grab land from the native Indians to form US. Speaking of grab, grab and grab. After that, they became lecturers telling someone not to grab. – don’t make me laugh – please !!!

  4. The islands are disputed between 6 countries. Regardless of the settlement, it has nothing to do with the US. Regardless of the ownership, the US cannot intrude the 12-nautical mile territorial sea anyway. It makes sense to discuss if these 6 countries should intrude the 12-nautical mile territory but it is totally irrational to discuss whether the US, Australia or Japan have such right.

    When two brothers are disputing the will of the diseased father, a third party cannot claim to have the rights to the will just because the dispute between two brothers is not settled.

    I can see if the US tries to be the broker of a settlement but I cannot see that they are the ones challenging the 12-nautical mile.

    The US has no role in this. It just have a supreme military might and try to elbow into the power play in Asia.

  5. OOPS, did I write something contrary to popular belief? Oh well, thank you for sharing your insightful opinion, I always enjoy learning what other people believe as individuals. However, I am merely taking advantage of the comment sections from articles about China and Japan for free advertising to sell my screenplay titled; “The Last President”. Also, I don’t believe a movie titled; “The Last Mayor” would provoke the same results. So, please have a politically rebellious day.

  6. Sorry, dear Sql. You are wrong. You better prepare for that coming WAR, that great nation USA as the world once knew only in history.

  7. War, over SC sea? Unlikely, because it will be construed as U.S. invasion, or pure aggression. Why would the U.S. need that?

  8. Unless US is TRULY abide by international law, accepting the legitimate right of China in South China Sea, stop fabricating more lies. It will happen for sure. However, China has the capability to face any military aggression from US just as she did in Korea and Vietnam. The more important question for US to TRULY ponder is will the war not be escalated into an all-out nuclear exchange. If US is TRULY confident about this, then, she has a clear advantage in the war with China. Yes, the war is inevitable and the world better prepare for it. My blessing for the great United State.

  9. Once we show our teeth the Americans will obviously back down since they are cowards just like in Syria Obama’s red line

  10. Salami can be cut from both ends a small slice at a time; both the Philippines and Vietnam have made their own slices over time without serious repercussions. One Philippine atoll has a small village and runway. Keeping the slices small has worked over the past ~50 years. Perhaps a 3 mile territorial water agreement around each development could be agreed upon. The prospect of under sea oil and nationalism, not trade, are likely the real issues.

  11. Reread my comment and think about it. I said nothing about war. World wide banking system would not allow the un-backed printing of money and neither would China. The point is what is China doing. Who is it protecting itself from and why create all the drama in its and others back yard. What exactly will China loose besides millions of jobs and I wouldn’t doubt create major civil instability. Why do you guys keep reversing the actions of China back on to the U.S.A.? As far as everyone can see China is the one creating the problem!

  12. China shall never combine with Japan in a million year and there are still much more other problems in China for their government to solve than ever think of a war with any others. It is the USA that tried to engage and contain China from growing and escalating the tension in SCS without thorough consideration for the situation shall there is even a little conflict occurred who shall then stand more pain in the region. There would be many years or at least half a century to come before anyone shall worry about China to outpace the USA both economically and military. So, don’t try to provoke for tension here as 60% of world trade are passage here in SCS and no one shall make a war zone here unless they try to create more trouble for themselves.

  13. how can china go to war with anyone? they cant even trust their own citizens with the internet their big communist government has to censor it. whats that all about?

  14. If China and Japan were to combine together and form a more powerful China, then China would have a much easier time taking over any variety of smaller countries. This may certainly need at least 10 more years, especially to combine military at the same time as technology advancement. Eventually, this more powerful China will become an overwhelming threat to America. This is exactly what happens in my screenplay titled; “The Last President” by Douglas Paige at; driveme89123yahoocom and asking only $1.7 million.

  15. Wake up and don’t just think of the debt that the USA owed to China. Actually the USA owed much to the world in total than just China and it really does not matter for the USA that owed to China as the reserve bank can print as much the USA they wanted. But, if there is a war with China in SCS and not an all out war. There is much for the USA and the world to lost than China as they still can go through their lank linked nations for trading and their market is big enough. But, even a curfew on SCS will mean all ASEAN nations trade and investment will be come to an halt especially for those nations that are not land linked such as Philippine and Japan. So, don’t talk war with China and there is nothing for the USA to gain but working together for the stability and prosperity in the region is much important for the world

  16. The fact is China and the USA can never go to any major conflict for none of it wanted and there is no immediate need to kill each other and no one survive. As nuclear powers, even if the USA can clean the mainland of China using their nuclear weapons, but there would the USA mainland get retaliated with nuclear weapons from China and then no one stand to gain and there could also a possibility of all out nuclear war and the end of world. Even if there is a little conflict in SCS, imagine if the USA is to fire a missiles on one of the China reclaimed reef, and China is to destroy a USA commercial vessels in SCS and declare a no man zone in SCS. All the ASEAN nations and the USA and Japan will be come to a halt economically as the region is one of the vital zone for supply and trading to most part of the world. China and few land linked nations can still trade and get their supplies elsewhere, but Japan will be gone for their maritime trading and the USA will get all the finger points by all ASEAN for damaging the economy there, and losing all the supplies and trading to the America over-night. So, there are much to lose for Japan and the USA and even Philippine for there can never able an all out attack to China, but what happen if PLA is to fire one or two missiles into SCS everyday, who will be much upset and worry than China for the region. Wake up and don’t just think of war with China for there are much for many to lose than China if there is a conflict in SCS.

  17. History of China is very clear: Grab, Grab and Grab more lands to make the Empire bigger and bigger. That is how China works for thousands of years. Now, after successful invasion of Tibet and East Turkestan (former Uyghur kingdom), China cannot go West anymore, it’s new invasion goal is East and South. That was why the Chinese invented the 9 dash line demarcation in the South East Asia sea to expand their border southward. China is the Third Reich of Asia with more success and ruses than the former one of Germany: make it in a slow pace so no one will notice and when they notice it becomes too late to react: the so called Salami slicing ruse. If the world is afraid of confronting China now, it will have to face it in WWIII later on when there will be no more room for concessions. The Chinese today know that they cannot become the superpower by technological advancements (that’s why they keep copying and hacking to catch up with other powers) so there is only one way left for them to become the superpower: Make China the biggest empire on Earth through land grab. Moreover mentally the Chinese sense of glory gets stuck in the Middle Age: Big is great and only tyrants can make that happen: China keeps being ruled by one tyrant after another for a reason: from the first “Shi” to the last one “Xi”.

  18. China has no business to reclaim land in South East Asia Seas, the seas belong to Vietnam and the Philippines. The US is just helping those small countries from China bullying. It is obvious that the nine dash line is all imaginary spin to invade others domain because China thinks they are so powerful already that they can do what they want, and treat other countries as they treat they’re people. The US will never tolerate that.

  19. The Chinese ICBM is all copycat and might not work, it could explode right on their own noses that there is no need to fire back. Therefore, who is going to cease to exist? Think about that double time!!

  20. The bigger lie is China’s 9-dash line. It kind of hard to justify your position and criticize your opponent’s big lies when your position started out as the mother of all lies. This is different from when the U.S. lied about Vietnam and the Gulf of Tonkin to start a war with them. In the age of internet and 24 hours news, the instigator of any conflict big or small will be exposed for all the world to see and your bias opinion means nothing.

  21. Raymond Prudente | May 31, 2015, 11:15 pm at 11:15 pm |

    Greg, there are hundreds of Tomahawk nuclear cruise missiles right at the backyards of China coastal areas and can hit targets within Mainland China in minutes undetected. If China could no be flattened in five minutes by above missiles flying above your head at high subsonic speeds. The B-1 and B-2 lethal stealth nuclear bomber will pulverized your most favored country.

  22. //// The real issue that the West must come to grips with, sooner the better, is whether they are willing to always say YES to this budding overlord from now.

    The South China Sea row pretty much demonstrated that China’s only emotion and corresponding action for situations where it is challenged is Nuclear War, and the negotiation table is nowhere in her mind. For some rocks 800 miles away from their sovereign territory (the sovereign territory not even being threatened), they casually assert they’d nuke Los Angeles. How the brain works is the serious question.

    Between 1939 to 1943, the world cringed, and grasped for air not knowing whether the Axis powers could at all be pushed back, or more so defeated.

    Has that dark episode been too long ago, that the world once again is willing to court the danger of incubating another overlord without doing anything. Just like last time.

    If so, business as usual then!

  23. Not to worry all, global warming and the rising waters will over flow these reefs.

  24. LOL this article is a joke. Just like your other article.

  25. This is one of the stupidest excuse for war I have ever heard. ALL of the shipping that travel through South China Sea will also have to go through multiple other countries EEZ. So even if China do in fact declare EEZ base on the islands, how is it more threating than let’s say Vietnam’s or Malaysia’s or Indonesia’s? EEZ is not allowed to shut down ship lanes according international law and China has never used to shut down ship lanes.
    It is as stupid as US needing to vacate Guam because it MIGHT be used to shut down pacific ocean ship lanes.

  26. …and where exactly are you getting your dosage of propaganda from SF. Try a real comment instead of a statement that you don’t or can’t back up.

  27. Enough lies already. China’s reclaim work is no different than that of Vietnam and Philippines done for decades. Granted China’s is bigger and better, as the country itself is bigger and better than either.
    Island reclamation work is in no way shutting down shipping any more than any country’s EEZ. Has Vietnam ever shut down any shipping from its reclamation work? has China ever shut down any ship lanes ever?
    This is just a pretext for US to go to war, just like WMD pretext in Iraq. No logical person believed Iraq could have nukes or other major WMD programs in 2003 with over 100 UN inspectors on the ground and US bombing the country at will, yet 90% of US population believed it back than.
    These same stupid sheep now believe Chinese islands somehow is a threat to world peace. Total BS. US’s desire to dominate and start wars is the real threat to world peace.

  28. Typical thinking of one whose reality is from media propaganda.

  29. What exactly will China win in the long run beside animosity and distrust! China has less to gain and more to loose in and because of this stance on the South China Sea. If its a matter of security , then the question begs to be asked. Who are they afraid of?
    The U.S. is so indebted financially and industrially that it is the last country to be actually attacking China. Where China should be cozening up to their neighbors their doing just the opposite. They are cutting their own throats!

  30. NO MADE IN CHINA | May 31, 2015, 4:47 pm at 4:47 pm |

    Next china will claim Hawaii, Alaska and California are part of china 2000 years ago.

  31. Debbie Lazaroff | May 31, 2015, 4:27 pm at 4:27 pm |

    Comment flagged for abuse.

  32. Debbie Lazaroff | May 31, 2015, 4:26 pm at 4:26 pm |

    It’s asinine that people keep believing that anyone survives a nuclear war.

  33. We can rain a shower of nuclear tipped ICBM on them but they can afford to have even 500 million of their people killed and still have 1 billion left. In a quick reply, while our missiles are on the way, they will have the ability to rain nuclear tipped ICBM’s on us too and we will cease to exist after that. Think about that!

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