The United States and China are in the midst of a tense naval showdown over the Spratly archipelago, a region in the South China Sea claimed by both China and America’s close ally the Philippines – and the two sides may be closer to war than most of us realize.
“This can convince the White House that China, despite its unwillingness, is not frightened to fight a war with the US in the region, and is determined to safeguard its national interests and dignity,” an op-ed published in The Global Times, a tabloid newspaper associated with China’s ruling Communist Party, stated on October 27.
The newspaper was referring to a trip made by the guided missile destroyer USS Lassen, an American naval vessel that sailed within 12 nautical miles of two of the Spratly Islands. China believes the US violated its sovereignty and that the trip was illegal.
It is unclear if The Global Times editorial represents official opinion in China, but the nation’s foreign minister, Zhang Yesui, did summon US Ambassador Max Baucus to his office to protest the move. Such a protest can be seen as a preliminary move to war.
“Based on the current trajectory, war between the United States and China in the decades ahead is not just possible, but much more likely than recognized at the moment. Indeed, judging by the historical record, war is more likely than not,” Graham Allison, the director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, wrote in a recent Atlantic article.
There are a number of compelling reasons to worry about a conflict between the US and China, including:
1. The United States seems to be deliberately provoking China by having powerful warships sail through the area.
“They’ve gone in heavy,” Ian Storey, a South China Sea expert from the Institute of East Studies in Singapore, said in The Guardian. “There is not much else heavier than that except an aircraft carrier. They want to send a very clear message to China that they are serious about this.”
2. China’s leaders are afraid that they could be seen as weak or unpatriotic if they back down to American pressure.
“China will have to react – it cannot not react to this,” Storey said. “Nationalism in China is such that China will be expected to make a robust response to this.”
Story continues below video
3. China’s president, Xi Jinping, has adopted an anti-American philosophy called the China Dream — with the goal of making China the richest and most powerful country on Earth, Allison said. Xi described this philosophy in a book, The Governance of China.
“Xi’s utopian world, as mapped out in The Governance of China, is one in which the United States is an insignificant, faraway blip, and countries that China can manage mostly without fear (Russia) or regard benevolently as obedient tributaries (Tanzania) fill the void,” Atlantic writer Benjamin Carlson wrote.
4. China has displaced the United States as the world’s largest economy, Allison noted. It is now the world’s largest trading nation, steel producer, oil importer, energy consumer, luxury market, holder of foreign reserves, holder of US debt, destination for investments and the world’s primary engine of economic growth.
5. Chinese warships have made aggressive moves towards US waters. In late August Chinese Navy ships entered US territorial waters and sailed to within 12 miles of the coastline of Alaska, CNN reported.
6. The idea of a war with America seems to be popular with some people in China. Tencent, China’s largest Internet company, released a five minute animated video simulating an all-out Chinese attack on what looked like an American military base in September, The Council on Foreign Relations reported. The attack ends with Chinese marines raising their flag over the ruined US base.
Do you believe China and the US are nearing war? Share your thoughts in the section below: