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Legitimate Flashpoints for US/China Conflict.


Belesarius
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http://www.wantchinatimes.com/news-subclass-cnt.aspx?cid=1101&MainCatID=11&id=20150525000072

 

US and Chinese frigates play tag near the Spratly Islands.

 

Folks on TeamSpeak had a discussion about how China and the US could easily come into conflict.  The Spratly Islands is just one such flashpoint.

 

And while the LCS might not be a Frigate yet, the decision to upgrade their armament and capabilities has been made.

 

 

 

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I don't think people are really fully aware of the context of this issue, so here's a quick background.

 

The Spratleys are basically a bunch of unclaimed islands and reefs in the middle of the South China Sea, which may contain some oil deposits. By virtue of being unclaimed and possibly having resources it was subject to a tug-of-war by the region, with China having the biggest share of the pie because they had the biggest stick. The Philippines is the second best claimant because the Spratleys are closest to the Philippines. The status quo for a long time was that each claimant had control of some of them (with China and the PH having the most), and that nobody would start any development unless it has the approval of all the claimants.

 

The problem is that China radically changed its position around 2010, when some frankly crazy people in the military or Politburo decided to change the definition of "Chinese territorial waters". Rather than the usual 12 nautical mile limit, China decided they were extra special and claimed their territorial waters extended to over 200 nautical miles. If the Spratleys were considered to be Chinese territory (albeit the Spratleys, being contested reefs for the most part, don't even count as "land territory" from which territorial waters can be extended - a distinction that becomes important later), this essentially means the entire South China Sea becomes Chinese territorial waters.

 

This may not seem like a big deal, but very many major sea routes go through the Souh China Sea, which feeds all of the major ports in the South East Asia region - particularly Singapore, Manila, Hong Kong, and basically every port in Vietnam. By turning the South China Sea into territorial waters, China is basically saying they have the right to instantly blockade any South East Asian nation.

 

Unfortunately Southeast Asia isn't in any real position to do anything about it. Malaysia and Indonesia are only superficially involved and are busy with their own internal problems. Thailand is technically still in the middle of a coup. Singapore is a city-state and, while having a very advanced military, has to park most of its weapons in America because Changi Naval Station can't fit everything. Vietnam to its credit continued its grand tradition of fighting China in spite of hopeless odds, and got a patrol vessel sunk for its trouble by ramming after it challenged the construction of a Chinese oil rig.

 

That, much to the groan and dismay of the region, means it's up to the Philippines to contest the claim. And given our first action was to rename the "South China Sea" to the "West Philippine Sea" in all of our maps, which was an utterly useless symbolic gesture that only succeeded in getting all of China's Internet trolls to focus their efforts against us, you can see why the region is in utter despair.

 

That said, our governement has somehow managed to be more competent and decided on the pretty smart move of taking the case to the International Tribunal for the Laws of the Sea, which is all but guaranteed to rule against China's 200 nm territorial water claim, and is a potential source of embarassment for a China still styling itself as a benovelent big brother instead of a bully.  

 

The thing is, rather than back down from this legal challenge, China very recently decided to double down on their initial mistake and to defy geography in order to avoid admitting it was wrong regarding claiming the whole South China Sea.

 

Since the first problem with their claim is that the Spratleys are still considered reefs and not islands which can exert territorial influence, China decided to spend a whole lot of money to turn those reefs into actual islands. Since they now have actual "islands" in the area which can theoretically exert territorial control, they can then claim that the other claimants are in fact merely squatters claiming reefs and can therefore be evicted. After which China reasserts its 200 nautical mile territorial water claim and turns the South China Sea into their lake.

 

Hence the recent US interventions. One of the Philippine's side-tactics in the Spratleys game since the early 2010s had been to troll the hell out of the Chinese Navy, which could not really respond to our provocations because they fear it will cause the activation of the Mutual Defense Treaty between the PH and the United States (this is why the only casualties so far in our trolling match were in fact Taiwanese fishermen shot by mistake by the Philippine Navy); and the US for the most part was in fact horrified by this potential flashpoint because they thought the court case would already settle it.

 

The man-made Chinese islands changed all that. The US military (and I hope Obama) are well aware of how this changes the game and can potentially render irrelevant our previous play of taking the case to an international court. That's why they're stepping up the patrols and they're playing tag. They want China to know they're not happy about what they're doing.

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Local reports say that at least two "armored artillery vehicles" were spotted on some of the islands; which would more likely be a self-propelled anti-air vehicle rather than an SPG piece because putting SPGs on artificial islands don't really make sense. So in that sense they are probably capable of shooting down any aircraft that approaches the island if they really wanted to.

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