China Is Ticking All the Boxes on Its Path to War
There are currently three communiques that have guided U.S.-China relations for the last 45 years. These joint statements by the U.S. and Chinese governments were signed in 1972, 1979, and 1982. Among other things, the second communique states that, “Neither should seek hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region or in any other region of the world”.
China has recently been attempting to have the U.S. sign onto a Fourth Communique under which the U.S. would no longer consider Taiwan as an ally or deal with it in any military or diplomatic terms. In effect, the U.S. would peacefully decline and leave the Western Pacific to China. The White House rejected it prior to the meeting of the U.S. and Chinese presidents on April 6-7 at Mar-a-Lago. It was raised again by Henry Kissinger, now in the pay of the Chinese government, at his meeting with President Trump on May 10.
It has been said that President Xi wants the Fourth Communique to crown his consolidation of power at the national congress of Communist Party of China in autumn this year. But he is likely indifferent. If the U.S. could be talked into abandoning the Western Pacific and all its allies in Asia, that would be a bonus. It is more likely that he is making a casus belli for the war that he wants and thus head off intra-party criticism for military adventurism with its attendant horrors. China expects to win a short, sharp, glorious war.
China, the U.S., Japan and Vietnam are all expecting war. China may have claimed all of the South China Sea but Vietnam still has 17 island bases there. These are a major long-term embarrassment to China. Vietnam will not give them up voluntarily so China will attempt to remove them by force – thus the current buildup of China’s amphibious warfare capability. China would also attack Vietnam along their land border to put maximum pressure on Hanoi.
Satellite imagery suggests preparations are being made to that end. For example at 22° 24’ N, 106° 42’ E, there are 12 large warehouses across the road from an army base that is six miles from the border with Vietnam. We can tell it’s an army base because it has a running track. China’s three major bases in the South China Sea and all have running tracks and 24 hardened shelters for fighter aircraft. The warehouses have red roofs when almost all the industrial buildings in the region have blue roofs, suggesting a central directive for their construction. The purpose of the warehouses would be to hide an armored force buildup prior to the invasion of Vietnam.
Warehouses at 22° 24’ N, 106° 42’ E, image date 8/25/2016
Along parts of the China-Vietnam border, there are areas with an abundance of roads leading up to the border and ending in pads suitable for artillery. These likely preparations give us an indication of what China’s war plans for Vietnam might include, just as the ten-pad, expeditionary helicopter base in the Nanji Islands at 27° 27’ N, 121° 4’ E provides China with an option to attack Japan in the Senkaku Islands.
Just because China hasn’t been involved in many wars in the last 60 years doesn’t mean that it is not belligerent. A case in point is the attacks China mounted on Vietnam from 1980 to 1990 seemingly just for the sake of it, after the 1979 China-Vietnam war. China’s then-leader, Deng Xiaoping, rotated army units through the front to give them combat experience. It didn’t matter that they were killing Vietnamese to do so. During the five-year period from 1984 to 1989, the Chinese fired over two million artillery rounds into Ha Giang Province, mainly into an eight-square-mile area. Chinese antipathy for its neighbors is essentially racist – if everyone else is a barbarian, their deaths will be of little consequence.
The Chinese dream of hegemony in Asia has been a long time coming. The map following is from a Nationalist primary school textbook from 1938:
A bit like Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, it has China extending as far south as Singapore. China’s ambitions now include incorporation of the Philippines.
China is now back to seeking hegemony of the Asia-Pacific region and so that voids the Second Communique. Fortunately President Trump’s advisers, recognizing the reality of the situation, have suggested that all three communiques be scrapped.
The question from here is the timing of China’s war. China’s bases in the Spratly Islands are now essentially complete. All they have to do from here is fly in the fighter aircraft. It is thought that China’s strategic petroleum reserve is near full after its stockpiling rate fell from the peak in March 2017 at 1.6 million barrels per day. Another sign that war is approaching and not receding is that the rate of Chinese incursions into Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands:
The big increase in mid-2012 was due to the ascension of President Xi. After trending down for two years, the rate of incursions is now trending up. The Chinese government pays their fishing fleet to do this. Now, would any civilized country expecting to live in everlasting peace with its neighbors do this? None would, and so the Chinese are telling us that war is coming. Prepare accordingly.
David Archibald is the author of American Gripen: The Solution to the F-35 Nightmare.