Thursday, April 18, 2013

Building a Salient

China is consolidating its claims to virtually the entire South China Sea, whether it conforms to international law, or not. This poses perils for those on the other side of those claims, but it is not without risk to China.

An opinion piece published by an Indian defense think tank concludes:

China continues to pursue its agenda on the South China Sea, employing its political, diplomatic and military departments in a well-coordinated and planned manner. More importantly, the new dispensation has shown no let-down in its support to press on with the issue, and continues to pursue its policy of “non-negotiation” on the issue of sovereignty of the territory within the “nine-dash” line. This policy will only get more aggressive with the passage of time as the Party has raised the decibel level and any compromise or come down could only be construed as weakness and ineptitude, something that would be disastrous for the Party’s image even as it begins to consolidate itself for the next decade.

Yes, this is dangerous and threatening. But if it comes to a fight, China might just be putting themselves into a kill sack.

American air power could potentially hit Chinese forces trying to hold or expand their footholds in the South China Sea from bases in Thailand, Singapore, Diego Garcia, Australia, the Philippines, and Guam. Hainan, where much of China' military power that would have to fight in the South China Sea is based, isn't too far from any American aircraft based in Thailand making a dash across Laos and Vietnam. That might be a nice route for cruise missiles fired from the Bay of Bengal.

Ships and subs based in Singapore, Guam, and Japan, plus reinforcements from Hawaii, the West Coast, and Central Command could converge on the region.

Marines on Guam, Okinawa, and in Australia would be close by.

And the Chinese would have to worry about Vietnam joining in on their long sea flank.

India might see good reason to join in if they want to keep the Chinese navy from gaining a forward foothold to support their presence west of the Strait of Malacca.

Plus Japan might take the opportunity to plant their military on the Senkakus, just to be safe.

And if we crush exposes Chinese assets pushed too far south, I wouldn't rule out the possibility that we might assault Hainan Island with a Marine Expeditionary Force. Sure, you might say that this would provoke a Chinese nuclear strike. But that would invite a far more powerful American nuclear strike.

Besides, if China lets us push them out of the South China Sea--which the Chinese have already declared is a core interest--why would an island off the mainland be more likely to really be a core interest?

Obviously, any fight between nuclear-armed powers is dangerous and to be avoided. But nukes aren't a free pass to just take what you want. Or to be able to hold it.