The global order of the 21st century has changed the world from a bipolar faction to multilateral units contesting rivals and allies to secure geopolitical interests. The fall of the Soviet Union marked the rise of American hegemony and the global dominance of the dollar in the economy. The nation that has started to challenge this rising power of the USA is China. The global factory has proved its economic and military might over the years. China became a superpower after it signed a trade deal with the USA in 1979, making the export and import of finished goods into the market reach a cap of $600 billion in 2017. This has been growing over the years and as of 2022, the imports from China into the US have increased by 6.3 percent on a year-to-year basis which was close to the amount of $536.8 billion. The United States also exported items to China which amounts to $153.8 billion on a year-to-year basis.
As per the reports of the Observatory of Economic Complexity, China exported to the US, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Vietnam. The total export was valued at a whopping amount of $86.5 billion of which $42.5 billion was exported to the United States. The import was mainly done from Taiwan, the US, Brazil, Australia and South Korea. The amount of imports only accounted for $68.3 billion.
Unfortunately, these bilateral agreements and ease of conducting trade are masquerades that cover the true intent of the nation. Geopolitics is very interesting as the spectrum does not harbor any friend or foe but rather mutual interests to maintain a balance in the world. Due to the aggressive stance taken by powerful nations, the balance has not been maintained properly since the end of the Second World War. Events like the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, all the wars fought between India and Pakistan, recent events like the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the ever-growing crisis in the Taiwan Strait. This article is on that last bit, Taiwan is a small island located south of mainland China. The inhabitants of this country are Chinese but they live under a democratic social fabric, unlike the Chinese living in mainland China.
Now this small island nation does not want to be a part of an authoritarian government and hence sought help from the American government. The Americans keeping their interest in mind started giving diplomatic and military support to Taiwan in return for receiving semiconductors for Microsoft, Apple and other tech giants. The issue is that this ongoing diplomatic dispute that is going on between China and the USA will get worse if the former exerts its influence in Taiwan. The tech industry of the USA will suffer a massive setback because China will have 60% control of the semiconductors that are supplied to the world. These chips are not only used in domestic tech products but also in military instalments to bolster a nation’s security. An example is the close ties between China and Russia where Beijing is supplying semiconductors to Russia that are used to make the Russian armoury gain the upper hand.
The United States already has a strong presence in Japan, South Korea and the Guam Islands since the Second World War. Currently, a small volcanic island on the Southern coast of Japan called Mageshima is witnessing the development of airstrips and a storage depot for arms. Nobody lives on this island and the Japanese government is paying its fishermen to not set sail for a place which is close to this island. The reason is to keep this a secret as Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution says that the nation will renounce war forever and seek a peaceful resolution to solve international conflicts. Due to the growing influence of China in the region, it was cardinal for the Americans to interpret the Article in such a way that gave the Japanese government a right to defend themselves. Since this is a prospect which can be used to mock Japan, it was kept a secret but due to the aggressive foreign policy of China, every nation in the region tends to overlook this fact. This transformation of a deserted island into a flown-blown military base is not only on the pretext of defending Japan against armed aggression but also to help the US. The weapons and assistance that are poured into revamping Mageshima are from the USA as they have their own interests to protect. The first is to conduct drills on this island which was previously done on the Guam islands and the second is to get closer to China in particular.
As per the reports from Times of India published on 11th March 2023 one interesting fact is that Japan discovered 7000 islands to their name. This is the reason why they came close to the maritime borders with Taiwan. The South China Sea region is the world’s most contested region where nations like the Philippines and Vietnam are annoyed with China’s constant bullying. The Philippines reported harassment of their fishermen by China. The boats are called off and ordered to turn back as Chinese armed vessels claim they are all Chinese water and the Filipino fishermen must leave immediately.
These issues brought the United States to prevent this constant dispute and protect its interest so they started to forge alliances with these nations in order to build military instalments that deterred China from making a move. Mageshima is just one example of many more islands that are getting advanced weapons and defence instruments to monitor Chinese operations. The line of US-led South-East Asian maritime line of defence looks like it is a sandbox. A box to choke Chinese trading lines in order to prevent the nation from getting stronger. This will be a win for both the US and these Asian countries. A defence official from the US government said to Insider on 27th December 2022 in an article titled: The US military is planning for a 'transformative' year in Asia as tensions with China continue to rise. This posture called the National Defense Strategy 2022 of the United States of America released by the US Department of Defense at a gap of every four years emphasises that Asia will be the future global hotspot; witnessing a rise in tensions and a potential war between China and the USA. This is the reason why they are so biased towards this region; investing money and sending weapons to the allies to deter China.
The islands extend all the way to the borders of Taiwan and are being militarised with weapons of high technology. All of these arrangements and a set-up for a potential escalation is and I quote, “The only country that has the intent and power to actually challenge the US-led global order and rewrite global rules, and norms.” This is something that the United States has been doing since the end of the Second World War. As we all know none of the American governments stand a challenge from a power that can overthrow the hegemony. However, the current president seems to not take positive stances to protect American interests except for the things it has done in Ukraine. The report clearly suggests that “We cannot delay” and it is a clear indication that the Americans are not taking this lightly. They need a decade to make their side of the scale heavier we already see a large contingent of American soldiers in Asian countries including one American possession. There are 8,000 troops in Guam, close to 45,000 troops are deployed in Japan, the Korean Peninsula has 22,000 American soldiers, and the Changi Naval Base has the US Navy which is by the way also used by the Indian Navy to restock, refuel and rearm if necessary. The presence of the US in this region has kept it free from violence and also promoted fueling American interests.
Unfortunately, this region lost its tight American supervision to the wars that happened in the Middle East. The implementation of Integrated Deterrence is designed to defend the region from China to keep global semiconductor production and supply secured. The strategy to enforce this new form of deterrence by open the bases in the Guam islands and strengthen ties with the country's allies in this region. These allies include Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. As stated in the National Defense Strategy of 2022, “ —they are the center of gravity for this strategy.” The Japanese are very worried about how China is strengthening its navy and bullying everyone in the region, especially Taiwan. On a closer look at the National Defense Strategy (NDS), National Security Strategy (NSS) and the Defense Buildup Program (DBP) it is very easy to determine the stance Japan has taken on such issues since the end of the Second World War. The NDS 2022 released by Japan speaks volumes of the situation, “....China’s current stance, military activities, and other activities have become a matter of serious concern for Japan...an unprecedented and greatest strategic challenge is ensuring the peace and security of Japan and the peace and stability of the international community…” This is a clear sign of the fact that Japan is ready to move into war if the hour calls to do so. Both the Pentagon and the Parliament of Japan are worried in context to China’s growing dominance in the region. Similar to the String of Pearls strategy that China is taking to surround India and exert force in the Indian Ocean, the US and Japan are ready to work in lockstep by introducing this strategy. The difference is that it is a chain rather than a pearl to choke China’s expansionist goals in the region.
All of this starts with Mageshima, the volcanic island which is being militarised at the moment. The island will be built jointly for training US-Japan allied forces and to land aircraft for refuelling purposes. Some 310 km south of this island is the Amami Oshima island another place which is witnessing militarisation. Long-range missiles and anti-ship missiles have already been installed here while there are high chance that cruise missiles will be installed here. The range of these weapon systems is long enough to protect northern Taiwan. All these weapons are purchased from the United States which follows over to the Okinawa Islands where American troops are already stationed alongside Japanese troops. There are heavy weapon systems that have a large range which not only brings Taiwan under their protection but also some parts of eastern China under the radar. Apart from these missiles, the island has electronic warfare systems that are meant to disrupt and jam communications of naval ships and other aircraft that fly into this region. The islands of Miyako-Jima and Ishigaki also have further installations of long-range missiles which can be potentially used to give a water burial to the Chinese navy and aircraft. Ishigaki island has 600 troops stationed here as well to maintain these war tech and use them should the need arise. The closest Japanese island to Taiwan, Yonaguni has housed more troops and electronic warfare machines to jam and may intercept communications to spy on the conversations that are being conveyed between Chinese war machines. This concludes the first part of the chain which is solidified by the constant amphibious warfare training between Japan and the USA. This is a message to China that shows Japan will act if China makes a move to occupy Taiwan. The significance of this chain is practical as Chinese vessels and submarines have to pass the physical barrier at the mercy of the Japanese Defense Forces. The wall of missiles and electronic communication systems will give Japan an upper hand to monitor Chinese movement if they want to access the Pacific Ocean. There is a logistical benefit as these islands will be well-supplied with the basic requirements if the need arises at any point of the day.
The South China Sea connects with the Pacific and there is no direct threat which will bar China from going down this line to carry out its trade routes. The issue is absolutely different here as it is not so simple with the Philippines as it was with Japan. When we look into the history of the Philippines, we can see it was an American colony just like India was a colony of the British imperialists. Post-independence American troops were still in the country but it was told to leave on 24th November 1992 which was quite obvious in this context. This is where things get interesting as the bittersweet relationship that the Filipinos share with the Americans is forged again to deter the toxic relationship that the former has with China. The maritime borders of the Philippines are claimed to be “Chinese water borders” by Chinese officials. This is the reason why fishermen from the Philippines are constantly harassed by the Chinese navy when they go out to fish. The entire West Philippine Sea is claimed to be a part of China’s maritime boundary which is not true as it is Phillipine's rightful water border. This situation was so bad that China imposed a temporary ban on fishing in the South China Sea which affected the livelihood of these fishermen a lot. Hence the only option that the Phillipines have is to give away their territory to China or join hands with their colonizer, the USA. Naturally they chose the US who have a beef with the Chinese for a long time now. The Phillipines planned to boost their military power and it started in 2014 when the US troops were allowed to come in to the Phillipines. The troops are being stationed at North Phillipines where the Fort Mangaysay Airfield and Basa Air Base Airfield are being used to shelter these troops from the US. The western Phillipines have Antonio Bautista Air Base which is being used by the Americans. The eastern side also has two places namely - Martin Benito Ebuen Air Base and Lumbia Air Base where the Americans have their troops stationed. All these troops have the rights to build barracks, bases and a supply line to keep the Americans well-stocked. In 2022 four more bases were built by the Americans all located to the north of the country which is closer to China compared to the east and south. The northern bases are Cagayan, Isabela, and Zambales which have the same rights. There is only one base on the western side of the Philippines called Palawan which is also under the Americans. This makes the total number of bases nine which is a big thing given the feud that was shared between the Philippines and the USA. This strategic alliance also fills out the chain that started with Mageshima and ends with the Philippines where their military and that of the US trains together to protect Filipino fishing activities. This is just the second phase of the chain which goes on all the way to encircle the South China Sea due to the alliance the US has with Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam.
The final part of this sandbox strategy is to do with Australia which is also worried about the growing influence of China in the region. President Joe Biden of the USA, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of the UK and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese have signed a naval pact called AUKUS to add an extra layer of deterrence. The Americans have the best naval nuclear technology in the world at the moment and they have gone to the extent as to give away this technology to their Australian counterparts in order to bolster the navy of Australia. The naval treaty has been signed to make a united force of nuclear-powered submarines that will patrol this region. The submarines will be stationed in the port of Perth where they will train and share classified intelligence with one another to blockade chokepoints like the one next to Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, and Makassar Strait between Indonesia and Borneo. These submarines are nuclear-powered and can work for months at a stretch. This means they can venture up to Taiwan if need be and keep the blockade going if China invades Taiwan. Moreover, the Tindal Airbase in northern Australia will have American B-52 Bombers which can carry nuclear missiles and other modern weapons which means that nuclear weapons of the US will have a home in the Australian territory for a long time.
Now to the million-dollar question! Is any of this activity effective in securing regional peace and American interests? Well, when it comes to the paradox of nuclear deterrence, escalate a situation to de-escalate as soon as possible. This is a clear signal to China that the allies of the US are ready to take on China if the need arises. One interesting factor which cannot be overlooked is that the strategies are designed to center Taiwan and its interest which in turn secures the interest of all the other countries in the world. Now all of these strategies are in the news and are being discussed by experts from relevant fields. There is no doubt in the fact that China is well aware of the things that are happening around them. Chinese President Xi Jinping has called this strategy a ‘Policy of Encirclement and Suppression’ which is true and the question of how close are to an all-out conflict cannot be said just yet but here is what the Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang has to say, “...if the US does not hit the brake but continues to speed down the wrong path, no amount of guard rails can prevent derailing and there will surely be conflict and confrontation…” This is a statement that shows that China is ready to fight back if this strategy is fully implemented to put them in a sandbox. What Xi Jinping said can be just a start as only a fraction of the policy has been implemented and it is predicted to take ten years until completion. This policy of encirclement as stated by China is to subdue the superpower unless they strike first before the United States successfully implements this strategy. There is a chance that this strategy will fire back at that the region with China invading Taiwan before its rival gains the upper hand. This means that the National Defense Strategy of 2022 will start the very conflict it is trying to deter.