Over the last several years, the Chinese military has been growing increasingly aggressive in the South China Sea. Recently, in fact, the Asian giant has been rapidly building up its military capacities in the area, including reclaiming thousands of acres of submerged islands from the sea to build facilities on.
Moreover, in a new defense white paper released early this week, China vows to increase its presence in the South China Sea, and issues a warning that a U.S.-China war is “inevitable” unless America ceases its interference in Beijing’s activities in the region.
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The new Chinese policy document was apparently published by the State Council on Tuesday, and in it, the country’s military leadership expounds on plans to move from a defensive posture to developing significant offensive capabilities in the area.
Arguing that the nation faces a “grave and complex array of security threats”, especially to its sovereignty over the South China Sea, the white paper says the Chinese military will robustly boost its open seas protection capabilities in the near future.
More on new South China Sea military doctrine
According to the new military doctrine, China’s forces will no longer be limited to defending national territory, but will project military power beyond its borders at sea and in the air in order to protect all of its offshore assets.
The Chinese air force will transition from just “territorial air defense” to both offense and defense, and the many million strong Chinese army will increase its global mobility. The nation’s long-range artillery is also slated to see upgrades in its “medium and long-range precision strikes”.
In a related development, an editorial in the Chinese Communist controlled The Global Times reported the construction of runways, harbor facilities and buildings on the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea as the country’s “most important bottom line”. The article also said that Beijing does not want a war with the U.S., “but if it were to come, we have to accept it.
Of note, the article appeared just days after a U.S. recon aircraft ignored warnings from the Chinese military as it was completing a reconnaissance mission over the islands.
Is U.S.-China war really inevitable?
“If the United States’ bottom line is that China has to halt its activities, then a US-China war is inevitable in the South China Sea”, the white paper stated unequivocally.
Yang Yujun, a spokesman for the Chinese defense ministry, somehow kept a straight face when flatly lying in claiming the Spratly Island development work is the same as building roads and homes on mainland China and it was for the good of “the whole of international society”.
“From the perspective of sovereignty, there is absolutely no difference”, he continued, saying “some external countries are also busy meddling in South China Sea affairs”.
In separate news, the government Xinhua News Agency said on Tuesday that construction is underway on two lighthouses on located on reefs in the South China Sea that both Vietnam and the Philippines also lay claim to.
Given the ongoing Chinese belligerence, it’s not difficult to imagine any number of incidents that could trigger a real war in the area.
Neither side backing down
Moreover, neither side appear to be ready to back down at this point, which experts say means a serious risk of a minor incident in the airspace around the islands is increasing quickly.
“I think the concern has to be that China misjudges the situation”, commented Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at the Japan campus of Temple University.
“Neither party wants a war if it can be avoided, but there are red lines for both sides”, Dujarric noted. “I worry that if Beijing considers the US to be a declining power and assumes that Washington will back down if it shoots down a US observation aircraft”.
Dujarric also said that while the U.S. chose to de-escalate the crisis after a Chinese fighter collided with a U.S. intelligence-gathering aircraft off Hainan Island in April 2001, he would definitely anticipate a different response if a similar incident were to occur in international air space over the South China Sea today.