China's Next War

Despite being two of the world’s three remaining communist states, China and Vietnam look to be on the verge of war. Vietnam is an obstacle to China’s ambitions for East Asian hegemony.

One of truisms from popular culture is that one should never get involved in a land war in Asia.  The mistake of getting involved in a land war in Asia is hard to avoid if one of your neighboring countries is set upon attacking you, which is Vietnam’s fate. If China is going to attack Vietnam, there would be satellite evidence of Chinese preparations, and so there is. Following is a satellite photo of 36 acres of new, red-roofed buildings at army base in China 10 km north of the border at 24° 24’ 40’’ N, 106° 42’ 26’’:

It is across the road from an existing army base, which can be identified as a military base by the running track. Most large Chinese military bases have a running track. One thing that is different about these new buildings is that they have red roofs in a region that is mostly blue roofs, suggesting the materials ordering decision was made far to the north in Beijing.  Another thing different about these buildings is that they are hard to access with small gaps between them. Which suggests they are for storage for things that won’t be accessed often, such as archives, or accessed only once – for hiding tanks, artillery, armored personnel carriers prior to an attack into Vietnam.

The last time China invaded Vietnam was from the predawn hours of February 17 to March 16, 1979. In line with the flexibility of Chinese strategic theory, this was called a “Self-Defensive Counterattack Against Vietnam.” China continued attacking Vietnam on and off up to 1991. A part of Ha Giang Province was on the receiving end of over 2 million Chinese artillery rounds from 1984 to 1989.  China still occupies three fingers of land from the 1979 conflict and that rankles the Vietnamese army.

Many Vietnamese army officers expect to die in the coming war with China but their first battle is on the home front. Earlier this year a brave party member stood up in a large meeting of the Communist Party of Vietnam and named names of senior party officials who had accepted Chinese bribes with respect to the sale of 99 year leases to Chinese interests. The army protected this brave party member from being arrested. Soon after there were protests in a number of Vietnamese cities against corruption and Chinese influence.

In the last few days Vietnamese soldiers have been more evident in the cities which suggests that they have been brought in to protect prostestors from the police who are detested for being venal.  The Vietnamese police often try to shake down members of the public for imagined infringements. There is potential for a coup by the Vietnamese army.

The Chinese army will be involved in the coming war in a big way because they couldn’t let the Peoples Liberation Army Air Force and Peoples Liberation Army Navy get all the glory. The most likely, Chinese strategy is to seize land along the border in order to make Vietnam give up its 21 bases and outposts in the Spratly Islands, most of which are manned by a platoon-sized force. They have been told to fight to the death.

In the 1979 war Vietnam decided to hold its best troops in reserve to halt a Chinese lunge at Hanoi and thus there were heavy casualties in the Vietnamese militia doing the fighting along the border, some 22,000. This time around Vietnam has its three best divisions north of Hanoi.

The Trump administration recently decided to resume funding the ‘White Helmets’ in Syria which are part of the Sunni propaganda effort, and sent them $6.6 million. A far better use of spare funds like that would be to send Vietnam anti-tank guided missiles such as the AT4 and the BGM-71. It is important that China’s attack into Vietnam be as expensive for them as possible. The best chance for long term peace after China’s war of choice will be from regime change in China.

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

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