General Question

JoyousLove's avatar

Is the contentious situation in the South China Sea a preamble to World War III?

Asked by JoyousLove (1458points) September 26th, 2016

There are a number of countries who have laid claims to various islands or parts of islands in the China South Sea. As far as I know the countries directly involved in this dispute are China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei. However, the U.S. has also involved itself (albeit indirectly), by sending military ships and planes out near the disputed territories.

At this point, China makes the most expansive claim and has been engaged in island building and sending out naval patrols of its own.

The U.S. and China accuse each other of militarizing the South China Sea… But the U.S. calls their military movements in the area “freedom of navigation” operations to ensure access to key shipping and air routes.

There has already been armed conflict between Vietnam and China over this disagreement (though that was decades ago, now), however as recently as 2012 China and the Philippines engaged in a lengthy maritime stand-off, accusing each other of intrusions on the uninhabited islands.

In 2013, the Philippines announced they would take China to an arbitration tribunal under the auspices of the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea, to challenge its claims… And in 2016, the tribunal backed the Philippines’ case. However, China had boycotted the proceedings, and called the ruling “ill-founded”. China says it will not be bound by this ruling.

So what do you think? Is there a potentially catastrophic situation developing in the South China Sea? What do you think of the U.S. and China “militarizing” the area…? Is a peaceful resolution to this situation possible?

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18 Answers

MrGrimm888's avatar

It could definitely lead to an all out war. If China and Russia decided to expand through military again, which both have recently done, that would be bad. It would take the US and all it’s allies to slow them.

China isn’t really ready for a large war yet. They are pumping major money into strengthening their military, but years of training, and military drills still need to be done for them to hang with a major power.

Russia, on the other hand could roll tanks pretty much anywhere in Asia or Eastern Europe.

Most recent reports from military advisors share a common agreement that Russia could capture large swaths of Europe with speed. NATO forces are drastically outmatched by Russia.

It would behoove the European countries to start building military, like
yesterday for what may be an imminent threat.

‘To secure peace, is to prepare for war.’

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

I don’t see the US and China in a major war. China is addicted to American consumer spending. The US is addicted to cheap Chinese labor.

JoyousLove's avatar

@MrGrimm888: What a grim prospect… (haha)… What do you think would be the spark that ignites Europe in war?

@Call_Me_Jay: Possibly… But I tend to think that if China actually took a stronger military posture in the China South Sea, the U.S. would at least attempt to match them… I also think that if China were to begin actively engaging the other countries who contend for possession of these islands, that the U.S. would feel obliged to stand in the way.

CWOTUS's avatar

Not hardly. It’s just typical statesmanship and jockeying for resources. It’s not like the Chinese are going to invade and enslave or kill all of the natives of the various uninhabited islands and shoals that make up the area that they’re trying to claim.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

I would like to defer this question to our Asian Bureau Chief in Hanoi, Mimishu1995, who has been very knowledgeable on this subject in the past; the incursion of the mainland Chinese government into the South China Sea and the constant, heavy PRC naval presence in the Gulf of Tonkin, the man made islands now being used as PRC naval bases and the PRC damming of important rivers and water sources which are the lifeblood of Vietnam.

MrGrimm888's avatar

@JoyousLove .

Russia ,well Putin, seems to be flirting with at least retaking territories that were part of the former Soviet Union. At worst, he could successfully invade Eastern Europe, potentially putting Russian boots as far as the shores of the English Channel.

North Korea is the nation doing the most sabre rattling, yet despite their large (albeit obsolete ) military, they lack enough resources (like oil) to get involved in any long term conflicts. Russia has a large,well trained army. Their tanks are probably the best in the world and the already have many. Their airforce is comparable to the US’s, unless the F-35 gets all the kinks worked out and is as formidable in real action as it is on paper. Weapons aside, it’s Putin’s unpredictability , and previously displayed willingness to use his military that should have Europe clenching their teeth. Once he helps bring his buddy back into power in Syria, he may indeed turn his attention to Eastern Europe.

Mimishu1995's avatar

I can’t say anything for sure as I’m not good at politics, but I can give you some point of view from a citizen of one of the countries in conflict with China. China is a real crook when it comes to power, and the reasons for all the fuss happening right now are that they want to rule the world the same way they did thousand years ago, and they want to compete with America. And another less obvious reason is that they want to fight with my country, just another conflict between us, nothing new here. But China knows they can’t just jump into a war like the Medival time, so they need an excuse. The old rig, man-made islands and things like that are just their attempt to piss other countries off, especially us. All they want is that someone blowing their fuse and shooting at their army, so that they can declare a war to “defend themselves”. My country knows that very well and is playing along. So at the moment China still can’t fight anyone. If a war breaks out, we will be done for as our army is far weaker than China.

Another reason why China can’t start a war is because of Japan. The “South China Sea” map includes part of the water that is crutial to Japan. If China gets the part, Japan will never let them get away with it, and so will America, an ally of Japan. China fears both Japan and America and they really doesn’t want any of them to be involved in their war.

So, I think a third world war is possible, but is very unlikely.

MrGrimm888's avatar

^Invaluable perspective. Thanks .

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Thank you very much, Mimi. The China/Vietnam situation sounds like Nazi Germany and Poland, 1938–39 all over again, but I agree; WWIII is unlikely. The rest of the world is too smart to fall for it and much better prepared and less naive than they were 75 years ago.

MrGrimm888's avatar

^I hope so….

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

One reason China’s recent aggression won’t result in war is that we are China’s largest debtor at about $1.241 trillion, as of June 2016. It’s not exactly an enviable position for us, but it works for us in respect that payments on this debt and the credit markers on it (which they can trade on the open market) are significant to the PRC economy. If anything happens to our economy that coulld divert these payments—such as war—the PRC economy would be severely affected. In our case, one could employ the old J. Paul Getty quote:

“If I owe the bank one million dollars, that’s my problem. If I owe the bank 100 million dollars, that’s the bank’s problem.”

We are a significant income stream and trading partner to the PRC. They are reluctant to handicap us, or we could miss payment on the vig. That is why they slap North Korea’s hand when the PRK gets too aggressive with their missiles into the Sea of Japan—too close to the PRK’s old enemy and our close ally, Japan.

But the most significant reason the PRC doesn’t want to confront us head-to-head militarily is that, although they have formidable armed forces well equipped with modern armament, they would not be able to bring us to capitulation because they have no way to get enough ground forces into North America quick enough to do so—and they know a nuclear exchange could ensue at that point which would result in mutual suicide. They can hurt us, and we can hurt them, but there is no way either one of us can win that war—at the moment.

In the meantime, we do business with the PRC and work diplomatically in the interests of the smaller countries like those in Southeast Asia that the PRC apparently has eyes on for colonization.

MrGrimm888's avatar

^EC . Wouldn’t that potentially be a motivation for the US to destroy China? If the US destroyed China, they wouldn’t owe their largest creditor. They could save trillions by eliminating China, and therefore their dept….

Maybe It’s The US who would benefit the most from a war involving China….

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

The only way that can be done is by a pre-emptive nuclear strike on our part, which would surely result in a massive, last ditch retaliation strike on the part of the PRC forces when they realize that they are getting hit. We all know that nuclear exchanges of this size could destroy all of earth’s civilizations and possibly biological life itself. Otherwise, like China, we have no way to get enough troops on the ground quickly enough into China for capitulation. Thus it is a stalemate. But, more importantly, I would like to think that my government is not so morally corrupt to even contemplate such a thing over something as relatively trivial like debt—even if it were possible.

MrGrimm888's avatar

^ I hope you’re right. Like I said, I view Russia as the wild card in WWIII.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Just remember; Putin is crazy like a fox, not crazy like a lunatic.

MrGrimm888's avatar

If /when the Syrian conflict is over we’ll see. I think Putin likes the instability the middle eastern conflicts bring to Europe. It’s a distraction. He’s helping force more refugees into Europe. It should only keep the region focused internally, instead of on the real external threat of Putin.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

You’re right that the refugee situation has the potential to hurt the economies of western Europe, but remember that they consume nearly all of Putin’s gas and oil production—via vulnerable pipelines that run through the Ukraine west into Europe. They represent significant trading partners and Putin may not really be interested in destabilizing his golden geese.

As to Syria, Russia has wanted a larger presence in the Middle East since oil became a significant energy source in the 1890s, but under the Tsar they came too late. And we and our allies went to a lot of trouble to keep the Soviets out in the ensuing years. So it shouldn’t be a surprise to the rest of the world that Putin continues this tradition. Nothing new here.

Don’t underestimate the unified power and will of NATO and the determination of people who have shown enormous courage and tenacity when invaded in the past. In the event of invasion, Russian forces would be up against 360 million people fighting for their own autonomy on their own land—plus the US and all the other NATO countries that would defend their trading partners.

I don’t think Putin wants to fuck with that. If he did, he would have taken the whole the Ukraine a couple years ago during their period of severe interior political instability, instead of taking only one naval base in the Crimea that Russia has essentially controlled since Katherine the Great. K of G built the damn thing because they needed all the ice-free ports possible to maintain their world-wide naval presence to protect their sea-faring trade. Putin had a lot to do with that Ukrainian instability and wasn’t just fucking with a weaker neighbor and former Soviet state and we, a couple of average civilian mensches, must wonder why he didn’t follow through. I believe things are at work to keep him in check, just like he works to keep us in check.

I really think Putin would rather do business—albeit mafia style business—than actually commit to all out war against countries that he could otherwise render economically dependent (like Turkey) than go to all the expense and grief of going up against NATO. Also, remember that his southern states and provinces do not necessarily consider themselves Russian, or even culturally related to their central federal government. Thus, they may not be reliable allies.

We have people on this site who live in western Europe. I would to hear what they have to say.

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

I think it is very likely Putin is prolonging war in Syria to deliberately spur emigration to Europe. It takes their attention away from his shenanigans.

If he can burden Western Europe with Middle East problems, and foment dissent from the xenophobic far right groups, the West has less resources to counter him. And they’ll still need Russian natural gas, they can’t skip heating their homes in the winter.

If Putin’s project to elect Trump succeeds, the US will also be bogged down and weakened.

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