I know it is conventional wisdom that China would never go to war with the United States because our economic interests are too mutually aligned. But hear me out because the question is not really one of if China is willing to fight for the South China Sea, but are we? I actually taught English in China in 2004 after returning from Iraq as my way of blowing off steam from the war. That is me above in the orange shirt because no one told me it was picture day but I guess I could have just told you I’m the white dude. I was provided room and board and lived off of a salary of about $500 American dollars a month which would take you quite far back then. While at a summer camp, I was sitting down at a place we aptly named, “the jungle bar”, which was nothing more than some plastic chairs outside of a hut selling 0.50 cent beers in the jungle. In walked some Chinese soldiers who also taught at the camp and when one of them spoke English, we began to chat US Marine to Chinese Soldier. We discussed Iraq, war, and life in the military. We drank, laughed, shook hands and when it was all said and done I knew there would be a fight with these people one day or another. How unfortunate as those fighting it might be the kids you see in that picture. Definitely the kid third from right at the top, he was an awnry little prick.
Grunt to Grunt
The truth is, me and this Chinese grunt had more in common with each other than either of us did with the influencers and decision makers of our respective governments. He was a cool dude, I’m a cool dude, we were just two cool grunts sharing a drink. Neither one of us had any reason whatsoever to kill each other apart from the fact that our governments told us to do so. But there was never a doubt in my mind as we chatted that he would kill me if told, and I so him.
I think due to America’s technological military might and video game war mentality, there has developed this caricature of the enemy soldier that they are somehow less of a warrior. America has dominated the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan for the past 14 years but make no mistake about it, grown men are trying to kill fellow grown men. Apart from technological advances, victory is hardly assured in combat between men. In fact, when America jumped into the Korean War in 1950 we got our butts handed to us for a little bit. North Vietnamese grunts were pretty hard to kill if I hear my Vietnam Vet brothers right. Iraqi grunts were… no well, exception to the rule those guys fold like a house of cards.
If we go to war against men like the one I drank and laughed with at the jungle bar, it is going to be a fight. Currently as we speak, China is making some audacious claims to the South China Sea that you can see above and they are backing it up with all the tools they need to fight for it. They are creating islands in the South China Sea, equipping them with surface to air missiles, fighter planes, and Chinese men as hard as the one with whom I spoke. I don’t care what you say about aligned economic interests, they don’t look like a nation planning to go home anytime soon and that means something has to give. They are treating it like their own personal Carribean and it looks like they mean it.
Pride and Patience
They are there to stay and their national pride wont’ allow them to back down even if they wanted. Now, I’ll agree with you that China isn’t looking for a fight today, this year, or even this decade. But they don’t think like you and me in terms of political election cycles and immediate gratification. There is this subjugated patience to the greater good that permeates that society and you almost have to live there to feel it. They would carry sandbag after sandbag across the South China Sea in a rowboat for the next 50 years if they thought it would pay off in the end.
Their approach is honestly not unlike what Israel is doing in the contested territories of Palestine. Just continue to build settlements and then 50 years from now when you would have been there so long it just seems normal. It’s how America took over the West from the Indians and Mexicans except ours was a whole lot more violent but made for some kickin John Wayne movies. Manifest destiny if you will, just keep expanding until the world accepts it. I think when China saw the world accept Putin’s annex of Crimea they decided they wanted to get in on some of this action as well.
Perhaps not WW3, but Definitely some Pew Pew Pew
It is not about a war of conquest between two nations. We are not invading China and they are not invading us. But the South China Sea is a school yard and China just drug their foot to make a line in the sand and said move me. China didn’t show up to ship out when America says so. They didn’t have a Plymouth Rock to land on in the South China Sea so they just went and made one and the militarized it.
The South China Sea will get hot sooner or later and the question is not whether China is willing to fight for it, but are we? Sometimes it helps just to take a nation at their word and treat them like they mean what they say. They even said today that military deployments to these man made islands are no different than US military deployments to Hawaii. Would we give up Hawaii just because a stronger military force said we should? Well, I’m here to tell you that China wouldn’t either.
I like the Chinese people, I really do and I wish that matters of state were discussed between the average joes of our two nations or even the average grunts. I didn’t want to fight that jungle bar grunt and he didn’t want to fight me. Drinking was more fun and prosperous to the world. But China isn’t building those island for nothing and sooner or later they are going to want a return on that investment. America needs to come to a consensus for what we are willing to fight because I guarantee you the Chinese have.
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