The debate between the United States and China over the South China Sea still makes the world speculate on the possibilities of a military resolution of the conflict. The conflict, which would bring massive damage to the world.
It is all about the confrontation between China (and, apparently, also Russia now) from one side, and the US and its allies from the other side, over the vast South China Sea, a body of water larger than the Mediterranean.
These tiny islands are located at the very middle of one of the key routes of shipping traffic, the total amount of which amounts up to $5 trillion per year. Furthermore, this is a highly important fishing area, at the bottom of which rich oil deposits are likely to be found.
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For many decades, China, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have insisted that all or part of the islands belong to them. But recently, the conflict has hit the critical phase.
The current balance of power might be destroyed completely and irreversibly due to this conflict. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work said that in case the debate between China and Japan over the South China Sea islands escalates, the US will “respond militarily.”
Robert Work stated that the US would respond to any aggression toward their allies. However, it is obvious that a military confrontation between the US and China would bring the most destructive consequences not only to the two countries, but also to the entire planet.
US vs. China: Military capability comparison
For comparison purposes, the US army along with its reserve and the National Guard amounts to about one million and a half soldiers, while China, in case of military invasion, would be ready to call up tens of millions of soldiers. Besides, military drills are a common practice in China.
In terms of tanks and armored vehicles quantity, the two countries are almost equal – 7600 tanks and 1400 armored vehicles in China, and 5400 tanks and 6700 armored vehicles in the US.
However, it must be understood that the US invasion into the Chinese territory is very unlikely. If there will be any, a military confrontation between the two countries are likely to be aerial and naval.
The Chinese have approximately 50 diesel and about 20 nuclear submarines, one aircraft carrier, 33 torpedo vessels and about 50 frigate, China’s air force has up to 3000 of different warplanes.
The US, in turn, has 10 aircraft carriers, 22 cruisers, 72 nuclear submarines, 62 torpedo vessels, 17 frigates, 9 landing ships and over 5000 warplanes. As you can see, the US has certain advantage, but it is definitely not the kind of advantage that would bring an easy victory and little blood.
However, comparing ground-based military potential is meaningless. It is hard to imagine a conflict growing into a ground-based confrontation between the US and China; there is simply no ‘middle land’ for it to happen.
In terms of aerial strength, the US plus Japan is stronger than China, even though the dominance is not that critical. If the war began, there would be significant casualties form both sides.
If US doesn’t show its strength – the world will stop believing it
If there will be indeed a military confrontation between China and the US, the latter would do its best to limit it as much as possible and focus on aerial and naval operations in the area of the disputed islands of the South China Sea.
However, waging a war against China – just like waging a war against Russia – is not among Washington’s plans. But they can’t retreat either. If they do retreat, the geopolitical influence of the US would be wiped off the face of the Earth. Washington believes that if it doesn’t show its strength, nobody in the world will believe them. And that might be true.
In his speech at West Point last year, Barack Obama assured that he wouldn’t send the US soldiers to any war. However, a great amount of the US military ‘elite’ keep talking about war and ground-based military operations against ISIS. But Obama was clear in his message: there will be no wars as long as he is the President.
As for China, Obama held a meeting with the president of China Xi Jinping at Sunnylands estate in California last year. The two leaders basically signed a non-aggression pact on that day.
The Chinese dream: To avenge all those who have humiliated it
The first non-aggression pact was signed back in 1979 between Deng Xiaoping and the US president Jimmy Carter. The two parties signed an agreement that said the countries cannot attack each other within the next 20 years. In 1999, the agreement was extended for another 20 years by Bill Clinton and Jiang Zemin.
Why were the agreements signed? It was about dividing the spheres of influence and zones of interest. And the current developments around the South China Sea islands are determined by the internal need for China to keep its society on the edge of its seat.
To consolidate people, a country needs an enemy. And the Japanese are the enemy number one for China. The great Chinese dream is in its becoming of a superior country, which would avenge all those who have humiliated Beijing. Above all, it would avenge the English, Japanese and Russians for everything that was happening in the XIX century.
But there is a non-aggression pact in place, which means there will be no war with the use of weapons until 2019.
All the threats coming from the US are just a diplomatic expression of discontent. It doesn’t mean that the threats will be followed by a military conflict.