War In Asia

There is a class of pundit that lives to talk about various war scenarios, almost always involving the United States. In the Cold War, this was a lucrative profession as most people thought war with Russia was an inevitability. Back then, the scenarios were all built around a chain of events that would lead to a nuclear exchange. The big set piece battles in Europe would give way to one side or the other deciding to launch their ICBM’s. In retrospect, the only way that was going to happen was though human error.

Today, the focus of the great game is usually on Asia, particularly China. That’s because the formerly dirt poor Chinese are suddenly rich and spending tons of money on their military. That means they have started to bully their neighbors, most notably Japan and Taiwan. As the patron of North Korea, they also can push the South Koreans around a bit too. The Chinese also have a strange way of being unnecessarily hostile to the US by letting it be known they are ready for a fight, just as soon as they can start one.

The assumption in the West is that China has plans to displace the US as the regional hegemon. That’s not an unreasonable assumption. A civilization with a billion people and 5,000 years of history should swing a big stick in its own neighborhood. The mistake is in thinking they are in a big hurry to confront the US in order to take control of the Pacific Rim. That’s a Western way of looking at things and it ignores a lot of history. China has always taken a long view. They don’t have to rush into anything. Instead, they can wait and let nature takes its course.

There’s also the fact that the Chinese have never been a naval power. They are not a naval power now and even at their current investment rate, they will not be a naval power anytime soon. There’s also the fact that the Japanese can become a naval power by next week if they wish to do it. There’s also the Russian fleet headquartered in Vladivostok and a big naval base in Avacha Bay on the Kamchatka Peninsula, with a major submarine base located at Vilyuchinsk in the same bay. The Russians are a serious naval power.

All of this means that the Chinese are a long way from dominating the region and even further away from confronting the US military on the high seas. Even if they launch a first strike against US naval assets in the Pacific, The US sub fleet is beyond their reach. That means a counter strike that eliminates Chinese naval assets and closes off Chinese sea traffic. It also means the remainder of the conflict happens on Chinese soil. That’s a high price to pay when waiting probably gets the same result.

An important thing about China that Western thinkers ignore is that the Chinese leadership worries far more about internal threats than external ones. The “iron rice bowl” has been a fact of life for a long time in China, despite efforts to break this cultural practice. Closing off sea traffic and access to world markets is the ultimate breaking of the iron rice bowl and no one knows what would happen. There’s also a lot of wealthy Chinese who would suffer if trade is disrupted. Pissed off rich people is always bad for the state.

The bigger threat is from North Korea. They combine the worst elements of a rogue state, a paranoid dictatorship and East Asian technical savvy. Most of the crazy regimes in the world rule over low-IQ populations incapable of sustaining modern economies and the technological products that result from it. The Arabs are a nuisance, but they cannot project power without Western help. The North Koreans are smart and they are building a serious ballistic missile program to go along with their nuclear program.

The best intelligence suggests the regime is fragile. Kim Jong Un is still consolidating power and that is always a dicey proposition in an authoritarian country. There’s always the threat that those who fear being purged will move against him first, but that just makes him more paranoid and more dangerous. It also means the people around him are not the best and brightest, just the least threatening. It’s also possible that Kim Jong Un is crazy, or at least on his way, so the set of plausible outcomes is very large.

Here’s where China and her zeal for stability probably keeps things under control. There are thousands of North Korean escapees in China. The Chinese government repatriates many of them, but not all. The numbers are small now, but any serious instability in North Korea means millions of starving Koreans heading north. That’s a big incentive for the ChiComs to keep a lid on the North Koreans. That means financing whoever promises to keep the place under control and not launch a nuke against the US.

There’s also another factor working against war in Asia. All of these countries are getting old and they have very weird demographic imbalances. Japan is the most well known example of low TFR, but China is undergoing a similar transformation. A very rich country like Japan can manage through this sort of demographic transformation. Relatively poor countries suddenly getting old is a different matter. Chinese per capita GDP is $6500, while Japan’s is $39000. That’s a huge challenge for China that will take priority over military adventurism, assuming any exists.

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Drake
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Good assessment. Like China, our biggest threats are internal.

Al from da Nort
Guest
Beat me to it, Drake. It would be good if we allocated some serious resources to internal threats, particularly the criminal Cloud People conspiracy to displace the native American population with hostile foreigners, most particularly those from Moslem failed states. I don’t see how Trump or anyone else crushes ISIS if we’re going to let them ‘flood the zone’. Think about it: If we did crush ISIS there yet let them come here in the aftermath, I’d say we’d be far worse off than if we just let them kill each other in the ME. And we know that once… Read more »
orabilis
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The real threat to us is not Jihadist terrorism but rather the Hijrah which seeds millions of Muslims into the West whose sole purpose in life is to usher in worldwide Sharia — at whatever pace deems most productive.

Shelby
Guest

In WWII my father was stationed in China. He was very impressed with the people. It’s truly a shame what bad government can do to an entire nation.

Member
There’s kind of a fascinating history of Korea and the divisions between “north” and “south” that goes back thousands of years. An old acquaintance of mine at work was a South Korean immigrant, and she told me about the differences, why South and North aren’t a modern “38th parallel” invention, and China’s closer ties to the Norks. The topic came up back in the mid 2000’s during a period of heightened tension surrounding another flare up. I had made an offhand comment that reunification ala East/West Germany was needed. She told me it’ll never happen. “It’s like saying Spain is… Read more »
Member

The New Silk Road initiative is actually pretty enlightened. But just about everything else the Chicoms are doing sounds like if was dreamt up by a Party hack or a PLA hack. Every island those guys fortify in the South China Sea is on less surface combatant or sub for the USN to deal with.

LetsPlay
Member

Yes, I wonder what tonnage bomb or missile would cause those man-made islets to simple shake like jello and disappear into the ocean from whence they came?

Bucky Barkingham
Guest

Some thoughts: We are China’s number one customer. It is not good to make war on your best customer. There is a huge imbalance of males vs females in China. They can afford to lose a few million men in a war. As noted the Norks could cause problems for China through their rogue behavior. Perhaps it would be in China’s best interests if KJU were deposed and eliminated and a friendlier leadership put in place?

ChiefIlliniCake
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I read an article recently that made the point that the birth restrictions that the Chinese have had in place have had the unintended consequence of making Chinese children just that much more precious to their families, which in turn makes losing children through military actions just that much more odious to the citizenry.

If you have seven kids, losing one, though tragic, is not as big a deal as losing one when you only have one.

As Mark Steyn has long said, China will get old before they ever get really rich.

LetsPlay
Member

You seem to neglect the numbers though. It is the middle and upper class, or about 300 million out of 1.3 billion that have the one child policy applied. Of course their status allows them “privileges” others can only dream about. That is why many other Chinese leave the mainland for other countries where they can have many children. The “other” one billion are the ones who will be asked to fill up the ranks of the army and they won’t have much choice about it. But there are ways to motivate that kind.

Member
My major at university was Chinese Studies back in the days just prior to Nixon’s visit, back when the professors were old China hands and the program was demanding. One of the profs had taught a man who was the PRC’s first ambassador to the UN and later foreign minister; another had been Gen. Marshall’s interpreter/translator during his talks with Chou En-lai (Zhou Enlai in the new transliteration), both had grown up in China, both were serious scholars, as were all the others in the department, save for the youngest, who was a Hong Kong Chinese and always referred to… Read more »
kokor hekkus
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“The bigger threat is from North Korea. They combine the worst elements of a rogue state, a paranoid dictatorship and East Asian technical savvy.” Not even close. N.Korea lives at the sufferance of China, because China doesn’t want US missiles and radar on its borders, and quite reasonably so. The 19th century Opium Wars, in which tens of millions of Chinese died so Britain could import opium into their country, have left China rightly suspicious of the western powers. But if tiny N.Korea ever launches any of their primitive atomic bombs at anyone, China will wipe them off the map,… Read more »
ChiefIlliniCake
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There’s no negotiating with a fat dwarf in a bowl haircut who purportedly fed his own naked, screaming uncle to 120 starving feral dogs in a stadium for his enjoyment. Even if not true, that’s the public relations image he wants out there. For now, the Norks provide the Chinese a buffer of crazy from the west. But when he becomes more of a liability to them than an asset, I concur that the Chinese will merely grease all of them. God knows there will be no rehabilitating the Nork population. They’ve been so calorie-deprived for so long that some… Read more »
Marina
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I know the South Korean official party line is that there is only one Korea and they all yearn for reunification, but I can’t imagine the South’s government actually wants to integrate 25 million or so starving North Koreans into a modern, high-tech society. It would be an absolute calamity.

LetsPlay
Member
Kokor, I don’t understand why you mention the Opium Wars in your comment. And then, I don’t know that it is factual. Just like the drug problem in the US, Cartels are getting drugs into our country but you can bet the powers that be not doing anything, until now, about the problem is the same thing that happened in China. Corruption. Business and political leaders took bribes, paid bribes to get the Opium as part of a business deal. It was a good business. For them. To hell with the Chinese people. It was all for the money. We… Read more »
Marina
Guest
The Chinese birthrate collapse is really something to behold. My husband’s family were all out of China before communism, so it wasn’t the one child policy that caused this. But my MIL and FIL are each one of six surviving children, and those 12 kids had there are 11 children between them, all of whom survived to adulthood. Nobody opted to have a big family in the next generation, and all the ones that had kids were all moderately well off professionals, so they certainly could have afforded it. My in laws look at us like we’re bonkers when we… Read more »
SamlAdams
Guest
Good point on the Chinese navy. Though the PRC has been spending money like mad, we forget that China is still less than tens years past the first real blue water operation in the Indian Ocean One or two sorties does not a well oiled naval machine make. On the other hand, adventurism in the back yard of the South China Sea is always an attraction, especially if economic growth is not coming through at home that way the people expect. Just serve up the modern equivalent of some “running dog lackeys” sabotaging the capitalist revolution. The US Navy is… Read more »
Trimegistus
Guest
The trouble with all these logical reasons why conflict won’t break out is that conflicts seldom break out for logical reasons. Hitler’s motives in WWII were at best wildly unrealistic. Every combatant in WWI had good reasons to keep the peace, but they all rushed headlong into a war which crippled their civilization. The Southern leadership in the American Civil War knew that the North could crush them given enough time. Wars break out because people deny reality. They persuade themselves that a desperate gamble is better than submitting to the inevitable tides of history. An aging China might see… Read more »
Marina
Guest

This is worth keeping in mind. People aren’t rational actors. They’re rationalizing actors. We rationalize why our choices are good ideas.

Dutch
Guest

And wars break out because the people declaring them believe they are immune to the pain and hardships that war brings. Sometimes they even see an upside in getting rid of unwanted angry young males, or in the expected economic stimulus. Denials of realities of sorts, but very specific and mentally defendable ones for those who think them.

Al from da Nort
Guest
Tri: I thought for a minute there you said logistical not logical reasons. Both are reasons for caution in dealing with China. While it would be foolish to argue against human illogic, wars often DO break out for logistical reasons that seem logical at the time. For example WWII: the US and the Brits were squeezing Adolph, particularly about oil supplies, and we were squeezing the Japanese using oil and steel cut-offs. These peacetime economic blockades of hostile powers we were not actually at war with proved to be grand strategic blunders that the respective leaderships pushed down the memory… Read more »
Sam J.
Guest

Yes.

Member
If you go to the golf course at Clark Field in the Philippines there are plaques on a wall commemorating holes in one shot there since the PI took it over. It is a mixture of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean names. These guys fly in direct from their nations of origin and play there amongst each other on a regular basis. It is actually cheaper to fly from Japan to play golf for a weekend than it is to do the same in Japan. There’s tons of Chinese money hidden away in the PI, Korea, and Japan as well. Why… Read more »
LetsPlay
Member

You are absolutely correct Doc! The new Macau is in Manila with all the new money launder … I mean Casinos being built there.

james wilson
Guest

I have no idea what China’s future will be, or even should be. In recent years the Chinese themselves have been looking to the later Tocqueville opus for inspiration, so we know they are actively looking. At last the US is looking again as well.

Member
Western pundits do ignore the internal threat in China, but the Politburo is acutely aware of it. Around 2010 or so, the Chinese equivalent of the Coast Guard got politically uppy, made demands and the result was the sabre-rattling towards Paracel Island and the Spratlys. Their Coast Guard got their face-saving and China put itself against a few neighbors, Japan, Korea, other SE Asia countries. Western economies can have recessions, increased unemployment, etc. and the elites still survive (maybe this will change, maybe not). But the Politburo knows they wouldn’t survive a big economic downturn, so they manipulate. There are… Read more »
LetsPlay
Member
And surprisingly, Vietnam is the only country to seriously pushback on the Chinese. They are buying more arms and they are building their very own reclaimed islands for defense purposes in the South China Sea. You are correct that this goes way beyond just Japan and the Philippines. It includes navigation and territorial rights of many countries bordering the South China Sea. The fact that China pulls out some map from the 16th Century that shows some islands as part of China means diddly squat in today’s world but the Chinese try to use anything as part of their argument.… Read more »
LetsPlay
Member
Zman, you’ve hit so many key points that make sense in the real world. My personal favorite is the myth of their, the Chinese, military might. We have seen a lot of press the last few years about their first stealth fighters, their first submarines, their first aircraft carriers, and satellites, but what is seldom mentioned is battle hardened troops and proven supply capabilities. Logistics is key to any modern battlefield and having a few stealth jets or carriers does not a strong force make. Then there is the issue of trained, experienced and hardened troops. There is no doubt… Read more »
Clayton Bigsby
Guest

Well this is timely…. was just reading the comments here and this just flashed in the news …Crazy Kim’s 1/2 brother killed in Malaysia airport

https://www.google.com/amp/www.bbc.co.uk/news/amp/38971655

http://www.corvinstudio.hu/automata-ontozes/
Guest

One of the profs had taught a man who was the PRC’s first ambassador to the UN and later foreign minister; another had been Gen.

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