World War III Starts Here

Written by Jason Simpkins
Posted May 27, 2015

Just as Russia has been grabbing land in eastern Ukraine, China has been aggressively pressing its own claims in the Pacific.

But while the insurrection in Europe has so far been something of a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia, the conflict in the East is far more direct.

So direct, in fact, that it's not a stretch to worry about a third World War breaking out relatively soon.

The latest flare up came last week, when the United States flew a spy plane over the Spratly Islands, a tiny archipelago in the South China Sea.

You see, China has claimed virtually all of the South China Sea as its own – ignoring the claims of its smaller neighbors – Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei – and trampling the maritime boundaries established by the UN.


The area is important for two reasons:

  1. It has resources, including fish, natural gas, oil, and minerals.
  2. It is a massive shipping corridor, as half the world's seaborne cargo passes through.

Recently, China has advanced its claim by creating more artificial islands. In just two years, China has expanded these islands by 2,000 acres. It's also outfitting them with harbors, airstrips, military barracks and even drilling for oil.

However, the United States and others refuse to accept China's claims. They continue to treat the islands and the water around them as international. And that's bringing them into direct contact with the Chinese military.

The Poseidon Adventure

The spy plane incident was the latest and most dramatic confrontation.

A P8-A Poseidon surveillance jet flew over the Spratlys last week. It filmed early warning radar, military barracks, a lookout tower and a runway long enough to handle every aircraft in the Chinese military on an expanded Fiery Cross Reef.

And in doing so, it blatantly ignored eight warnings from the Chinese military to vacate the area.

In response, China lodged a formal complaint, with a spokeswoman saying: "China's will to maintain sovereignty and territorial integrity is as solid as a rock. We urge the U.S. to make corrections, keep their rationality and stop any provocative actions."

Furthermore, China's military issued its first policy document in two years. The document vowed to increase China's "open seas protection," switching from air defense to both offense and defense, and criticized “external nations” for "meddling in South China Sea affairs.”

And finally, to really drive the point home, the newspaper mouthpiece of China's Communist Party, the Global Times, explicitly threatened war with the United States.

"If the United States' bottom line is that China is to halt activities, then a US-China war is inevitable in the South China Sea," the editorial read. "We do not want a military conflict with the United States, but if it were to come, we have to accept it."

The Pivot to Asia

For its part, the U.S. isn't backing down.

Officials have openly pondered sending more warships and aircraft to what it says are international waters, but China says are within its zone of control.

Vice President Joe Biden even commented on the issue directly during his commencement speech at the U.S. Naval Academy.

“In the disputed waters of the South China Sea, the United States does not privilege the claims of one nation over another, but we do unapologetically stand up for the equitable and peaceful resolution of disputes and for the freedom of navigation, and today these principals are being tested by Chinese activities in the South China Sea,” he said.

“U.S. foreign policy is rebalancing toward the vast potential of the Asia-Pacific region, but we can't succeed if you don't show up. That's why 60% of the United States Naval Forces will be stationed in the Asia-Pacific by 2020.”

So where does that leave us exactly?

Well, China is pushing border claims that the United States and its regional allies are not prepared to recognize. And both parties are building up their forces in what's quickly evolving into a small arms race.

China is clearly agitated, but it's just as clear that the U.S. has no intention of simply abandoning the South China Sea.

So the question is...

How many protests or complaints will China lodge before it resorts to more drastic action? And how will the U.S. respond if China downs an aircraft or fires warning shots at a ship?

For at least the last decade, war between these two countries has been seen as inevitable. And it may be closer than we'd hoped.

Fight on,

Jason Simpkins Signature

Jason Simpkins

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Jason Simpkins is Assistant Managing Editor of the Outsider Club and Investment Director of Wall Street's Proving Ground, a financial advisory focused on security companies and defense contractors. For more on Jason, check out his editor's page. 

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