Eyes of the Fleet

Eyes of the Fleet

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The New Domino Theory: Assisting Ukraine May Cause Russia to Help China Take Control Over the South China Sea Region

There is this National Interest piece by Harry J. Kazianis, "Russia Could Make China King of the South China Sea"
Events thousands of miles away in Ukraine could set off a chain reaction that could see China become the undisputed ruler of this large body of water thanks to a large infusion of Russian weapons and technology— if the West starts arming Ukraine.
Imagine this scenario: The West decides that it is time to arm Ukraine. Russia decides it needs to strike back— and not just in Europe. President Putin pulls out his map of the globe and looks for a place where Russian power would best stick it to the United States. His eyes light up on the one area that could not only strengthen ties with a potential partner but do real damage to America’s efforts to “pivot” to that part of the world: the South China Sea.
While Russia might not be a superpower anymore, it does have the power to create lots of havoc for the United States and its allies all over the world. Such moves would then see the West again look to strike back at Moscow, creating a dangerous dynamic that would see the conditions ripe for a new Cold War that is in no ones national interest. This is all the more reason for all parties concerned when it comes to Ukraine to find a political settlement to the crisis.
So, under this new "domino theory" (for info on the old "domino theory" see here), the inter-connectedness of the former "communist" (read complete dictatorships) countries would allow Putin to "send a message" to the U.S. by agreeing to sell very modern arms to China, which can then use those to cement its position  as regional hegemonic demon over the South China Sea region. That is, unless, of course, the West agrees to cede all or part of Czechoslovakia Ukraine to Hitler Putin in some sort of "political settlement." We know from history how well such appeasement agreements have work out. See Munich Pact, for example.

However, the argument is that failure to give up bits and pieces of Ukraine will cause Putin to knock over a domino piece elsewhere, most specifically the China piece.

But, isn't China doing just fine without agreeing to buy more Russian equipment? What with stolen plans, weak sister neighbors and a somewhat flaccid U.S. response so far to it bullying and island grabs, what does it need Russia for?

If I were Putin and I was looking at arming China, I'd be worried about my resource rich eastern areas that are so very close to China and its
area of influence. A Chinese "invasion" of Siberia has been discussed for some time and also discounted (oddly, both linked articles look at demographics to make their cases).

Frankly, if the information on some number of Chinese emigrating to Siberia is true (and perhaps even if is not) Putin has, through his assertions of "protecting ethnic Russians" in his Ukraine push, provided the Chinese with an argument to take action in Siberia to protect "ethnic Chinese." I imagine someone in the U.S. world of think tanks might be looking at how a signal to the Chinese about such an action might be viewed by the West if Putin pushes harder in the west.

Further, there is this interesting look at U.S.-China relations from a former U.S. Seventh Fleet commander in this U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings opinion piece, "Storm Warnings?":
• According to The Washington Post , China has increased its use of oil at the average pace of 6–7 percent a year since 1990—more than 20 straight years! At this pace, the PRC will catch the U.S. rate of petroleum usage in just over 20 more years.

• By 2020, China is expected to import 7.3 million barrels of crude oil per day—one half of Saudi Arabia’s planned output, as reported in Foreign Affairs . By way of comparison, today the Chinese import 4.7 million barrels per day and the United States about 9.7 million.

• A recent article in the International Herald Tribune states the PRC is preparing to build three times as many nuclear power plants in the coming decade as the rest of the world. However, electrical demand is growing so rapidly in the PRC that even if that happens, they will generate only 9.7 percent of the country’s power.

• According to National Geographic Magazine , today China produces and consumes nearly one third of the world’s steel, more than long-time industrial powers Japan, Germany, and the United States combined.

• David Hale Global Economics indicates that China now consumes 25 percent of Australia’s exports, up from 12 percent just two years previously, and has invested $44 billion in Australia since 2007.

• According to the South China Morning Post , while the PRC accounts for more than 20 percent of the world’s population, it has only 7 percent of the world’s fresh water, and its vast system of 87,000 reservoirs is not in the best of shape; 43 percent are said to be in poor condition.

All of this is to say that China is facing serious natural-resource challenges, including the need to import an ever-increasing amount of raw materials.
VADM Crowder notes that these external resource dependencies would support a strong blue water navy to protect China's sea lines of communication.

Admiral Crowder makes several excellent points in the piece, not the least of which is the need for some plain speaking on the part of the U.S.:
In fact, if the United States were a lot more transparent about its concerns in the region with regard to China, it could probably reach a glide path that moves more toward cooperation than confrontation. But until the Chinese show us by their words, and more important, their deeds, that their naval buildup is not about coercing the nations of the region—particularly over resources—then we have to be capable of making such an outcome, quite simply, not worth the risk.

On the other hand, if there truly are vast resources of oil, gas, and iron just sitting outside China's border with Russia . . . and exploiting those resources would not require the use of vulnerable sea lanes . . . well, I suspect there are Chinese operation plans on just how grabbing a big chunk of Russia's "far east" might happen, especially if Putin gets Russian forces heavily engaged in the west.

The point is that while Putin might be tempted to tip some dominoes, he really needs to be very careful. The West/U.S. does not need to cede anything at all because it has its own domino strings to push.


  1. Another potential domino a little closer to CONUS is Cuba's Guantanamo. Should some Carter-like president ever cede that postage stamp back to Cuba,

    Cuba might soon have the U.S. over a barrel upon leasing it to China. Can we imagine U.S. interference with China's repatrification of Taiwan after China (or Russia) has established a guest "presence" in Cuba?

    Of course, China and Cuba have little in common besides state communism, disdain and suspicion of the U.S., and, as of 2013, Cuba exports to China more than half the tonnage China produces for its domestic consumption.

  2. Vigilis's CORRECTION:

    the exported commodity referenced in my earlier was "sugar".