Global War in the China Sea
Regular wars are about land and resources; world wars are fought over the sea.
The next global war is going to be fought over the China Sea and its three sections: South, East and Yellow. It will pit China against the United States. If history is any guide, the war will start soon.
The artillery attack by North Korea against South Korea last week was no random act of senseless violence. It was a super power, China, using a proxy to make a strategic point. It was a calculated move to ramp up tension and challenge the status quo. The Chinese don’t want the Americans and their South Korea allies to hold joint anti-submarine maneuvers starting tomorrow in the Yellow Sea (West Sea to the Koreans). The Chinese told the allies that back in July and they were ignored.
At the crux of the matter is the issue of maritime borders. China wants to create a “no-sail” zone in the China Sea. Under international law, a naval power can position its warships in international waters 22 kilometers or 14 miles or 12 nautical miles from the low tide mark of the shoreline of a foreign country. The Chinese (and many other countries) want to extend this demarcation to 200 miles or the current limit of their “exclusive economic zone”. In the narrow Yellow Sea that would mean an aircraft carrier like USS George Washington would have to stay about 70 miles off the coast of Weihan, instead of the more aggressive 14 miles which is ‘legal’ under international law. Imagine the reaction of the US Navy if a Chinese aircraft carrier were to position itself 14 miles off the coast of Virginia or Manhattan. The Chinese have already announced that they do not want the US/Korean naval maneuvers to stray over the border of the “exclusive economic” zone.
This latest incident is just one in a long chain of events that have been percolating in the background. In September, the Chinese military announced that it had developed a “carrier-killer”. As described in The Global Times, a Chinese government-controlled newspaper, “China undoubtedly needs to build a highly credible anti-carrier capability. Not only does China need an anti-ship ballistic missile, but also other carrier-killing measures. Since US aircraft carrier battle groups in the Pacific constitute deterrence against China's strategic interests, China has to possess the capacity to counterbalance.” By Chinese strategic interests, the article is referring to China’s stated objective of creating a “no sail zone” extending 1,000 miles from the Chinese coast. Such a “no sail” zone would push US naval power to the east of Korea, Japan, Taiwan, the Phillipines, New Guinea and Indonesia, creating the equivalent of the “Chinese co-prosperity sphere”. It would only be a matter of time before resource-rich Australia would be included in the “no sail” zone.
US intelligence anticipated the Chinese announcement of the “carrier-killer” when it staged a show of force in early July by surfacing a new version of the Ohio-class nuclear submarine armed with 154 conventional Tomahawk cruise missiles around the periphery of the China Sea: the USS Michigan surfaced in Pusan, South Korea, the USS Ohio in Subic Bay, the Philippines, and the USS Florida in the Indian Ocean outpost of Diego Garcia (a Los Angeles class attack submarine surfaced unannounced on November 8th in Okinawa to the chagrin of the Japanese Government during its stand-off with the Chinese over a fishing boat). With this provocation, the US Navy was taunting the Chinese and making clear that it understood that the aircraft carrier was an obsolete weapon system. The admirals were acknowledging that the next war would be fought by submarines and submersible vessels and that they understood the Chinese threat from that corner. Since the US submarine fleet is declining due to exorbitant costs and the Chinese submarine fleet is surging in numbers and capability due to its labor cost advantage and the theft of Western technology, the July announcement of joint US/Korean anti-submarine maneuvers on November 28 – December 1, 2010 in the Yellow Sea was a shot across the bow of the Chinese Navy.
With these events as a backdrop, does the North Korean artillery attack look like a random event or a carefully orchestrated move by the Chinese to pressure the Americans to back off to a new “no sail” zone demarcated by the “exclusive economic zone”. We will see what our Navy does over the next three days and whether or not this will prompt a proxy war in North Korea.
I hope it does not escalate into a full-fledged war. Maybe I better sell my stocks when the market opens on Monday.
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The parallels to the lead up to World War I are uncanny and frightening. In both cases, you have a surging economic power with an inferiority complex. Both nations feel that they were/are not treated with the respect commensurate with their industrial power. Both countries are led by non-democratic governments dominated by their military establishments. Both countries decide to challenge the incumbent naval power for hegemony of the sea, at least around their littoral.
In both cases, the flash point will be a small proxy country that has strategic naval significance. In the case of WWI, Belgium with its deep water ports in Ostend and Zerbrugge (75 miles from Margate,UK) and Hsinchu City, Taiwan 126 miles from Putian, China. Both country are focusing on building a submarine fleet. The Chinese want to build 90 attack submarines and out gun the Americans with only 53. Both countries were/are building an ‘obsolete’ surface fleet as a symbolic challenge to the incumbent: Germany built battleship groups while China is building aircraft carriers.
What happened in Korea last week was no random act of mindless violence by a regime crying for attention. The Chinese gave the order.
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