China is not as much as a Threat in the South China Sea
Written by Jeff Bates
The South China Sea dispute represents a crisis not only for the United States, but to many other countries in the region as well. Many countries are right in their desire to have a piece of the Sea since there is an abundance of oil, natural gas, and fishing resources. From a US perspective, the South China Sea dispute is of national importance. The US is allied with the Philippines (which make claim of parts of the Sea), keeping international shipping lanes open is of critical importance economically, and being able to maneuver militarily in the Sea is a priority.
The Mutual Defense Treaty signed by the United States and the Philippines in 1951 asserts that “[both] parties recognize that an armed attack in the Pacific Area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and each party agrees that it will act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes” (U.S Collective Defense Arrangements). This means that if China clashes militarily with the Philippines, then the US is obligated to come to the Philippines defense (and vice versa if the US is attacked, the Philippines would have to come to our aid), which would result in at least a military skirmish between the US and the Philippines against The People’s Republic of China (China). All hostilities in the area would likely be very costly.
Many of the islands that China claims as its own have anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles that pose a significant threat to the US. Additionally, Steven Myers claims that the Chinese have anti-carrier missiles (DF-26) that the US Navy could not defend against. The article also says that these DF-26 missiles are located deep in Chinese territory thus making it difficult to destroy the missiles before they are launched, especially because it is not known how many DF-26 missiles are deployed throughout China.
It is reported that 1/3rd of all trade flows through the South China Sea (China Power). If China were to take over the Sea militarily with its exclusive economic zones (EEZs), then potentially, China could sever key shipping lanes in the Sea that would certainly disrupt the global economy. $5.3 trillion worth of exports and imports are reportedly transported through the South China Sea annually, with $1.2 trillion being US imports or exports. China, with its navy, could potentially seize these exports and imports because of it anti-access/area denial (A2/AD). Thus, if the trade war heats up even more, the US could likely lose substantial economic benefits. Consequently, it is vital that the US continues its freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) to keep the Sea lanes clear and unhindered (China Power).
Militarily, the sea is important to the US. If Taiwan (China’s bitter enemy) were to ever be invaded, it would be imperative that US forces interceded to protect Taiwan. The ability to send US armed forces into any countries in the region that could become a threat to US national security is crucial, and having A2/AD from China would severely hinder the ability of US forces to operate in the vicinity.
In the ensuing years, the conflict will not see much change. China will continue to fortify its islands with military weapons. It will also likely build more islands in the southern part of the Sea to further its investment in the Sea. Additionally, with the Sea being a global trading hub and despite Chinese arguments that US FONOPS are “provocations”, the US will continue to carry them out to protect allies in the area. The danger that Steven Myers argues about DF-26, as well as with other anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles is low. Although earlier in the decade, these weapon systems would not be able to be defeated by the US, the US military is starting to field defensive laser weapons on its ships that will eventually be able to defeat any missile threats (AN/SEQ-3 (XN-1) Laser Weapon System (LAWS)). Additionally, the abilities of electronic warfare that the US possesses is increasing, further allowing greater protection against these threats.
Although China has a very interesting and strong ability to create A2/AD to the US military using asymmetrical military protocols, China would not engage the US military. In the event of an all-out war between China and the US, as explained in Myers article, the People’s Liberation Army and Navy and Air Force (PLA) is not nearly as experienced as the US military since it has seen little combat, and US military technology is far superior despite being slightly smaller. Stealth aircraft could fly deep into China’s territory to destroy carrier-killer missiles and many other threats that would give the US military a decisive victory.
U.S Collective Defense Arrangements. U.S. Department of State. Accessed March 20, 2019 from https://www.state.gov/s/l/treaty/collectivedefense/
Myers, Steven. 2018With Ships and Missiles, China Is Ready to Challenge U.S. Navy in Pacific. The New York Times accessed March 20, 2019 from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/29/world/asia/china-navy-aircraft-carrier-pacific.html
China power. How much trade transits the South China Sea? Accessed March 20, 2019 from https://chinapower.csis.org/much-trade-transits-south-china-sea/
AN/SEQ-3 (XN-1) Laser Weapon System (LAWS) Accessed March 20, 2019 from https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ship/systems/laws.htm
Baxendale, Rachel; Callinan, Rory. 2018. Chinese missiles on Spratly Islands worry Canberra. The Australian. Accessed March 21, 2019 from https://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/foreign-affairs/chinese-missiles-on-spratly-islands-worry-canberra/news-story/0324c18fc6f0b6a00a86c8a9ac3acfae