The Coming Trade War with China, Part Three:
Continental vs Maritime Countries
blue pencil edits @ 04:50pm
I seem to not be the only one developing the Coming War with China thread.
China developing its first aircraft carrier battle group: Vietnam building new deep-water military port
China has long been a continental and insular country. They built the Great Wall to stem historic barbaric invasions from the north, and the Himalayas act as a natural barrier as China secured her western and southern frontiers from foreign influence and for their own development.
Chinese naval activities rarely reaches out beyond their littoral waters, if even that. The dubious claims of Gavin Menzies in his book, 1421: The Year the Chinese Discovered America aside, China never exhibited much interested in exochina. They are a self-centric people, declaring themselves to be at the center of the world, letting the world come to its doorstep rather than venture far from the motherland.
But China of late is testing the deep blue waters. Several years ago, there was a local rebellion in Fiji or Samoa (I think it was the Fiji Coup in 2000, but I didn't save any of the references I had). At the time a great deal of speculation and charges circulated about Chinese "influence" providing "on-site advisory" assistance to the rebels.
Why? And who cares about a few small islands in the middle of a vast ocean?
Look at a map of the Pacific. Any Chinese geo-politician and historian concerned with the unchallenged strength of the US Navy in the Pacific would recognize that one of the inherent strengths owned by US PAC Fleet is the depth of its rear operating area. Worst case scenario for any US PAC Fleet deployment to trouble spots in the West Pacific would simply require the Fleet to take the long way around to the east, much as the American Fleet used the East Pacific in the WWII Pacific War to get fleets and logistics around the Japanese.
American interests in the West Pacific include, among other things, the international sea lanes in and around Indochina. American economics and her projection of global power relies heavily on ensuring free transit of trade and military deployments through these seas.
Recent littoral contests in the East and the South China Seas, mostly over control of vast oil fields believed to be there, disturb what little tranquility exists in those seas. Piracy is indeed rampant there, but that only highlights the value of the sea lanes. The possibility of a country staking claim over the area is not a welcome thought.
In WWII, the US Navy staged a comeback from the eastern Pacific around the Solomon Islands and ultimately rolled up the Japanese forces as they pushed west.
Any guesses where Fiji is? At the eastern end of that island chain. Pointed like a dagger at PAC Fleet's hind quarters.
Having a friendly nation in the eastern Solomons would at the very least give the Chinese a valuable ELINT recon post to monitor American fleet activities. When things get hot, it could be used, if occupied and fortified, to attack the USN's soft under-belly, as Churchill advocated the attack in the Mediterranean as a stab into the under-belly of the Axis. It doesn't have to be a full-scale occupation and assault. Just being able to be the bee in the bonnet of US Naval rear area operations would be a very profitable investment to any Chinese operations and adventures in the West Pacific.
Historically, at least in modern history, large scale conflicts between maritime and continental nations generally favor the maritime nation. Countries have natural advantages. Large countries with a strong agriculture and bordered by potential adversaries who have easy access to the heartland typically develop a cultural and a historical bedrock that is strongly tied to the land. Maritime countries who depend on trade for survival and who live off the sea and rely heavily on their large coastal areas for primary defense develop a much more mercantile and mobile culture and history.
The eighteenth and nineteenth century French were the continental country in opposition to the maritime nation of England. And the twentieth century conflicts between Nazi Germany and the Allies, followed closely by the Cold War between the Soviet Union and America, were similar face-offs between continental and maritime countries.
During the Napoleonic Wars, the French Navy repeatedly lost control of the waters around Europe as British Adm. Nelson defeated them first at the Battle of the Nile, denying the French access to the riches of faraway India and stranding Napoleon's forces in Egypt, and then again at Trafalgar, once and for all established the supremacy of the British Navy over the French. After that, it was just a matter of time before Waterloo.
During WWII, one potent reason for Germany losing the war was it could not defeat the advantage of the two great maritime powers of the day, Britain and America. German U-boats and pocket battleships were used to shut off the flow of supplies from America to Britain and Russia. But Britain and America held natural and historical advantages in maritime operations and, though deadly, the U-boat and capital ship threats were shut down.
Once isolated from maritime shipping and deployments, the Germans were effectively surrounded and isolated.
And having another continental army rolling them up from the East didn't help. Had the Red Army not had the support of maritime Britain and America as it pushed across the vast continental Ukrainian plains, could they have thrown back the German war machine as they did? Surely the proverbial Russian winter fatally impaled both Napoleon and Hitler, but the Russians have never been able to push west except in self-defense and with formidable allies further west, threatening their opponent's rear. In fact, I don't think they ever really tried.
Even in the Cold War, superpower era of MAD, the encirclement of the Soviet Union, and their failure to encircle America, was due in large part to our Carrier Battlegroups, which numbered up to 15, if I recall. The Soviets could barely field a single carrier. Only in global submarine operations could the Soviets even attempt a challenge, but if you can't operate in the sea openly, you are not the master of the high seas.
With global trade being so integral and vital to a global nation's interest, it is little wonder that mastery of the high seas would be paramount, even now more than ever. It is also little wonder that it will be on the high seas where global domination will be challenged and asserted.
Is there really a natural advantage for maritime nations in such conflicts? Will the current and future Sino-American face-off reflect the same geo-politics? Can the Chinese overcome American maritime advantages? Or am I just exhibiting American-centric arrogances?