China's War Timing Firming Up

Part of Obama’s baleful legacy is that during the Scarborough Shoal Incident of April to June 2012, the Filipino president travelled to Washington to ask Obama for U.S. support. Obama didn’t offer support, no operational support followed and China read that as the signal to seize territory from a U.S. ally. As is the usual pattern, the consequence of not dealing forcefully against a minor aggression will lead to a much bigger war down the track.

The Chinese leader that organised the seizure of Scarborough Shoal, Xi Jinping, became a national hero and that gave him the political momentum to see off rivals to become president of the People’s Republic of China the following year. As retired U.S. Navy captain James Fanell noted, while in the West the Scarborough seizure was treated as a minor fisheries dispute, Chinese scholars recognized the significance of Xi’s template for mooting U.S. alliances by undercutting confidence in defense agreements, calling it the ‘Scarborough Model’.

Emboldened by Obama’s acquiescence, China is preparing for a “short, sharp war” to seize the Senkaku Islands from Japan. They are building specialised equipment to that end. Again from Captain Fanell:

Size matters in confrontations at sea, especially between coast guard vessels. As China has sought more of its neighbors’ maritime sovereignty, it has built ever-larger coast guard ships. These are intended to enable its civil maritime forces to carry out China’s  campaign more aggressively (having the biggest ship on scene), and to conduct them at  increasing distances from China’s coastline. As such, China has demonstrated its commitment to have the largest coast guard vessels in the Asia Pacific region. In 2014, China commissioned the largest coast guard cutter in the world, at 12,000 tons, the Zhongguo Haijing 2901. This cutter first went to sea for the first time in May 2015 and is subordinated to the East China Sea area of responsibility. A second ship of the class, CCG 3901, was completed and made ready for operations in January 2016. The Communist Party’s People’s Daily made the purpose of these ships crystal-clear, stating they were designed to have “the power to smash into a vessel weighing more than 20,000 tons and will not cause any damage to itself when confronting a vessel weighing under 9,000 tons. It can also destroy a 5,000-ton ship and sink it to the sea floor.”

Note carefully the combat assault mission of these Chinese Coast Guard ships.

Sinking ships by ramming is a throwback to how triremes did battle in the Mediterranean. It also tells us how China plans to start its war. The super-sized Chinese coast guard ships will ram and sink Japanese coast guard vessels. When the Japanese Navy responds by sinking the Chinese coast guard ships, the Chinese PLA Navy will come over the horizon with amphibious assault ships. China will claim to be the aggrieved party and offer to end hostilities, leaving it in possession of what it seized.

The Chinese have been doing some dry runs for the conflict to come. Around midday on August 5th, 2016, some 200 to 300 Chinese fishing boats swarmed into the contiguous zone around the Senkaku Islands of Kuban and Uotsuri, followed by 15 Chinese coast guard vessels by August 9th. Come the actual battle, there will be hundreds of Chinese vessels to be sunk, much like plinking tanks in the deserts of the Middle East.

China’s intent is plain, the next question is the timing. The Communist Party of China has directed the People’s Liberation Army to transform itself into a force that will be ready to take Taiwan by 2020. A Senkaku campaign will be a lot easier than subduing Taiwan, and possession of the Senkakus in turn will make the Taiwan campaign easier to mount by partial envelopment of that island. The PLA Navy is still expanding and China might not start its war until its navy is somewhat larger than it is now. Of particular interest is a new class of amphibious assault ships, the Type 075. Approximately the size of the U.S. Navy’s Wasp-class ships, the Type 075 is projected to carry up to 30 helicopters and have the ability to launch six helicopters simultaneously. The first Type 075 class may be launched in 2019 and in service in 2020. Another four might be built by 2025.

There are a few other considerations which have the potential to bring forward China’s war plans. China’s economic growth is mostly debt-funded construction of unproductive assets, so China’s debt to GDP ratio continues to climb. Everyone knows this is unsustainable, that it will end in tears but nobody knows when. A stalling economy and tens of millions of personal bankruptcies as China’s real estate bubble pops would encourage the regime to distract the public with a foreign military adventure. Then there is the question of China’s energy supply. China’s strategic petroleum reserve is estimated to be about 700 million barrels and still building at one million barrels per day. The Chinese reserve will probably keep building until the day the war starts and U.S. and Japanese submarines begin sinking Chinese tankers.

But the big story in energy, internationally, is the projected peaking of Chinese coal production in 2020 before it starts falling away due to resource exhaustion. Chinese coal production of over four billion tons per annum is about four times the U.S. production level. Coal is the source of two thirds of power generation in China, about the same for chemical feedstocks and is the source of all the nitrogenous fertiliser they use. The energy content of Chinese coal production is equivalent to 58 million barrels of oil per day. The production cost of coal, and thus the cost of doing everything in China, will start rising once production has peaked. It is unlikely that China’s nuclear power sector will expand fast enough to compensate. Thus China’s competitiveness relative to countries that have plenty of coal remaining will fall. This will factor into President Xi’s timing of his war.

Now is the time to ask Lenin’s question “What is to be done?” The important thing is to shun anything made in China because that just funds their aggression. Choose the Samsung offering over the iPhone for no other reason. And be nice to any Japanese or Vietnamese you meet. We need them to have courage.

David Archibald is the author of American Gripen: The Solution to the F-35 Nightmare

Part of Obama’s baleful legacy is that during the Scarborough Shoal Incident of April to June 2012, the Filipino president travelled to Washington to ask Obama for U.S. support. Obama didn’t offer support, no operational support followed and China read that as the signal to seize territory from a U.S. ally. As is the usual pattern, the consequence of not dealing forcefully against a minor aggression will lead to a much bigger war down the track.

The Chinese leader that organised the seizure of Scarborough Shoal, Xi Jinping, became a national hero and that gave him the political momentum to see off rivals to become president of the People’s Republic of China the following year. As retired U.S. Navy captain James Fanell noted, while in the West the Scarborough seizure was treated as a minor fisheries dispute, Chinese scholars recognized the significance of Xi’s template for mooting U.S. alliances by undercutting confidence in defense agreements, calling it the ‘Scarborough Model’.

Emboldened by Obama’s acquiescence, China is preparing for a “short, sharp war” to seize the Senkaku Islands from Japan. They are building specialised equipment to that end. Again from Captain Fanell:

Size matters in confrontations at sea, especially between coast guard vessels. As China has sought more of its neighbors’ maritime sovereignty, it has built ever-larger coast guard ships. These are intended to enable its civil maritime forces to carry out China’s  campaign more aggressively (having the biggest ship on scene), and to conduct them at  increasing distances from China’s coastline. As such, China has demonstrated its commitment to have the largest coast guard vessels in the Asia Pacific region. In 2014, China commissioned the largest coast guard cutter in the world, at 12,000 tons, the Zhongguo Haijing 2901. This cutter first went to sea for the first time in May 2015 and is subordinated to the East China Sea area of responsibility. A second ship of the class, CCG 3901, was completed and made ready for operations in January 2016. The Communist Party’s People’s Daily made the purpose of these ships crystal-clear, stating they were designed to have “the power to smash into a vessel weighing more than 20,000 tons and will not cause any damage to itself when confronting a vessel weighing under 9,000 tons. It can also destroy a 5,000-ton ship and sink it to the sea floor.”

Note carefully the combat assault mission of these Chinese Coast Guard ships.

Sinking ships by ramming is a throwback to how triremes did battle in the Mediterranean. It also tells us how China plans to start its war. The super-sized Chinese coast guard ships will ram and sink Japanese coast guard vessels. When the Japanese Navy responds by sinking the Chinese coast guard ships, the Chinese PLA Navy will come over the horizon with amphibious assault ships. China will claim to be the aggrieved party and offer to end hostilities, leaving it in possession of what it seized.

The Chinese have been doing some dry runs for the conflict to come. Around midday on August 5th, 2016, some 200 to 300 Chinese fishing boats swarmed into the contiguous zone around the Senkaku Islands of Kuban and Uotsuri, followed by 15 Chinese coast guard vessels by August 9th. Come the actual battle, there will be hundreds of Chinese vessels to be sunk, much like plinking tanks in the deserts of the Middle East.

China’s intent is plain, the next question is the timing. The Communist Party of China has directed the People’s Liberation Army to transform itself into a force that will be ready to take Taiwan by 2020. A Senkaku campaign will be a lot easier than subduing Taiwan, and possession of the Senkakus in turn will make the Taiwan campaign easier to mount by partial envelopment of that island. The PLA Navy is still expanding and China might not start its war until its navy is somewhat larger than it is now. Of particular interest is a new class of amphibious assault ships, the Type 075. Approximately the size of the U.S. Navy’s Wasp-class ships, the Type 075 is projected to carry up to 30 helicopters and have the ability to launch six helicopters simultaneously. The first Type 075 class may be launched in 2019 and in service in 2020. Another four might be built by 2025.

There are a few other considerations which have the potential to bring forward China’s war plans. China’s economic growth is mostly debt-funded construction of unproductive assets, so China’s debt to GDP ratio continues to climb. Everyone knows this is unsustainable, that it will end in tears but nobody knows when. A stalling economy and tens of millions of personal bankruptcies as China’s real estate bubble pops would encourage the regime to distract the public with a foreign military adventure. Then there is the question of China’s energy supply. China’s strategic petroleum reserve is estimated to be about 700 million barrels and still building at one million barrels per day. The Chinese reserve will probably keep building until the day the war starts and U.S. and Japanese submarines begin sinking Chinese tankers.

But the big story in energy, internationally, is the projected peaking of Chinese coal production in 2020 before it starts falling away due to resource exhaustion. Chinese coal production of over four billion tons per annum is about four times the U.S. production level. Coal is the source of two thirds of power generation in China, about the same for chemical feedstocks and is the source of all the nitrogenous fertiliser they use. The energy content of Chinese coal production is equivalent to 58 million barrels of oil per day. The production cost of coal, and thus the cost of doing everything in China, will start rising once production has peaked. It is unlikely that China’s nuclear power sector will expand fast enough to compensate. Thus China’s competitiveness relative to countries that have plenty of coal remaining will fall. This will factor into President Xi’s timing of his war.

Now is the time to ask Lenin’s question “What is to be done?” The important thing is to shun anything made in China because that just funds their aggression. Choose the Samsung offering over the iPhone for no other reason. And be nice to any Japanese or Vietnamese you meet. We need them to have courage.

David Archibald is the author of American Gripen: The Solution to the F-35 Nightmare

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