Thursday, April 25, 2013

Why China wouldn’t go to war vs. U. S.

Why China wouldn’t go to war vs. U. S.

By Perry Diaz

US-China-flagsIf China attacked the United States, she had better knock her out in the first strike.  Otherwise, the U.S. would unleash 1,654 nuclear warheads on 792 deployed Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), Submarine-launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs), B-52 bombers, and B-2 stealth bombers.  China has approximately 240 warheads and an undetermined number of ICBMs.  But who would fire the first ICBM?
China had always stuck to her “No First Use” policy.  However, in January 2011, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) reportedly had indicated that it would consider launching a preemptive nuclear strike “if the country finds itself faced with a critical situation in a war with another nuclear state.”  By adopting a “First-strike” policy, China is changing the geopolitical game.   

Xi Jinping and Barack Obama (File Photo)
Xi Jinping and Barack Obama (File Photo)
In March 2013, in an apparent reaction to China’s “First-strike” policy, the Obama administration sought to create the “capability to launch a first strike against Russia and/or China without fear of nuclear retaliation.”  To accomplish this, the U.S. military plans to have 1,500 to 1,800 sea- and air-based first-strike cruise missiles by 2015 and 2,500 to 3,000 by 2020.
Many believe that to launch a preemptive first-strike could lead to Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), a Cold War doctrine in which a full-scale use of nuclear weapons of mass destruction by two opposing sides would effectively “result in the complete, utter and irrevocable annihilation of both the attacker and the defender.”   
But that doesn’t mean to say that a conventional war could not erupt in the Asia-Pacific region.  Actually, it could happen anytime soon.  North Korea’s threat to launch ballistic missiles against the U.S., Japan, and South Korea could spark a war that could presumably bring China to come to her aid.  And this is where the conflict could become a battle between the world’s two economic powers: U.S. and China. 
Oil almighty
EIA-major-crude-oil-trade-flows-SCS-2011But like any other war in modern times, oil — or the absence of oil — could determine the outcome of the war.  During World War II, the Allies launched precision bombing of oil fields and refineries in Germany, Austria, Romania, Norway, and other German-occupied countries.  The success of the Allies’ “Oil Campaign” contributed to the weakening of Germany’s defenses.  Thus, when D-Day came, Germany’s vaunted panzer divisions were rendered inutile.  
China faces a similar problem.  She has less than 30 days of strategic oil reserves, which could be reduced to 10 days in time of war.  If the flow of imported oil from the Middle East and Africa were blocked at the Strait of Malacca, it would deprive China of 80% of her oil imports.   
China’s Achilles heel
EIA-major-LNG-oil-trade-flows-SCS-2011At the east end of the Strait of Malacca, Singapore controls the “bottleneck” – the narrowest point in the strait with a width of only 1.7 miles. And conveniently located there is Changi Naval Base where Singapore maintains a fleet of submarines, frigates, and missile gunboats.   
Recently, President Barack Obama and Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong met in Washington D.C. and agreed on a plan to rotate deployments of U.S. Navy ships to Singapore as part of Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” – rebalancing of forces by transferring 60% of the U.S.’s naval assets to the Asia-Pacific region by 2020.     
U.S. Asia-Pacific strategy
The backbone of the U.S.’s Asia-Pacific strategy is her military presence in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Philippines, and Australia. Of utmost importance is the U.S.’s ability to block the chokepoint at the Strait of Malacca, which connects the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea.  

Carrier strike group (File Photo)
Carrier strike group (File Photo)
With the supercarrier USS George Washington strike group permanently based in Yokosuka, Japan, two other supercarrier strike groups were recently deployed to the 7th Fleet, the USS John C. Stennis strike group operating in the South China Sea and the USS Nimitz strike group operating in the Western Pacific.  The three strike groups have combined aircraft strength of more than 240 jet fighters.  At the west end of the Strait of Malacca, in the Indian Ocean, the supercarrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower strike group is deployed.
To protect Guam from potential missile attacks from North Korea, the U.S. is deploying a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD) to Guam to strengthen the strategic island’s defenses.  Already deployed at Guam’s Anderson Air Force Base is a squadron of 12 B-52 nuclear-armed bombers, two squadrons of the advanced F-22 Raptor stealth jet fighters, and three nuclear attack submarines.   And from Japan to South Korea to Taiwan through nations in the South China Sea to India and Afghanistan, the U.S. has deployed a ring of the anti-missile Aegis Combat System and batteries of Patriot anti-ballistic missiles around China’s periphery.
In terms of military personnel, the U.S. Pacific Area Command (PACOM) — which is responsible for the Pacific and Indian Oceans — has more than 320,000 American troops under its command of which 85,000 are stationed in Japan and South Korea.  It’s interesting to note that two senior posts were assigned to Australian officers, one of which is Deputy of PACOM Intelligence.
Australia appears to play an important role in the U.S.’s Asia-Pacific strategy.  In 2011, Australia agreed to host 250 to 2,500 American Marines at Darwin, which is strategically positioned to control the Timor Sea, a possible new route for China’s oil imports in the event the Strait of Malacca and the Sunda Strait in Indonesia were blocked.  Obama called the troop deployment to Australia, “necessary to maintain the security architecture of the region.”  “This will allow us to be able to respond in a more timely fashion and to meet the demands of a lot of partners in the region,” he added. 
Major setback for China
Disputed-South-China-SeaAccording to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), almost a third of global crude oil and over half of global liquefied natural gas (LNG) passes through the South China Sea each year.  That makes the South China Sea the most important energy trade route in the world. 
It did not then come as a surprise that China claims virtually all of the South China Sea as an extension of her continental shelf; thus, her territory.  But five other countries also claim a good portion of South China Sea as their 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).  The U.S.’s position is that freedom of navigation should not be impeded in the South China Sea.
With no other source for oil, China is planning to tap the oil-rich South China Sea.  But the bad news is that a recent EIA report said that while the South China Sea is rich in oil and gas, they mostly reside in undisputed territory, close to each country’s shores.  As for the disputed regions of the South China Sea, the report said: “EIA estimates the region around the Spratly Islands [and the Paracel Islands] to have virtually no proved or probable oil reserves.” That is a major setback for China.
Evidently, China is not prepared militarily to go to war against the U.S.  Logistically, it would be a nightmare if China ran out of oil in the midst of a war.  And with all her neighbors – including Vietnam – warming up to the U.S., China is seen as a bully who would grab her neighbors’ land by brute force and intimidation. 
China should learn that getting along with her neighbors would earn her their respect, not their enmity.  She just can’t go about and say, “This is mine! That is mine!”
At the end of the day, China’s aggressive behavior would hurt her image and credibility for a long time to come.    

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