The only nation to definitively meet the criteria of a superpower, the United States of America is arguably the most powerful nation on the planet, both economically and militarily. Accounting for over 40% of worldwide military spending, nearly six times that if any other nation, its armed forces are technologically superior to any other.
And the U.S. is no stranger to war.
With the largest and best-equipped Air Force and Navy in the world, the U.S.A. is capable of unrivalled force projection on a global scale, able to wage war effectively anywhere on Earth. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States has never been challenged by a foreign entity as capable as itself. No true adversary has ever arisen.
In the East, China is rising.
Spanning an area of nearly ten million kilometres, and home to over one-fifth of the world’s total population, the People’s Republic of China is a truly immense nation. Boasting a rapidly developing economy, China is in a position to become one of the most influential nations on Earth, and a potential superpower. Standing at the ready to extend and enforce this newfound global authority are the three million proud men and women of the People’s Liberation Army, one of the largest military organisations the world has ever seen.
With a growing emphasis on comprehensive technological modernisation across all five of its service branches, China’s military might is staggering, and its capabilities formidable. As it turns its attention towards Asian and Pacific expansion and enforcement, one thing becomes clear.
The 21st century may very well be a Chinese century.
PART I (Status Quo)
The dawn of a new millennium.
The Pacific has long been an area of political and socio-economic turmoil, and the site of numerous wars fought throughout the latter half of the 20th century. The 21st-century will be no different. Currently occupied by five of the largest militaries in the world, the future of the Pacific remains uncertain and unstable.
Despite having virtually controlled the Pacific for decades, the United States is worried. Current, evolving tensions between North and South Korea, China and Taiwan, or even India and Pakistan could potentially culminate in armed conflicts that would change the political landscape forever, an established local network of military alliances and mutual defence treaties perhaps even involuntarily entering the U.S. itself into yet another war.
By far the biggest threat to U.S. Indo-Pacific dominance however, as well as the national security of numerous south-east Asian and Oceanic nations, is that posed by the People’s Republic of China.
Benefiting from a powerhouse economy, China is home to one of the biggest, strongest and most rapidly modernising military organisations on Earth. Armed with highly advanced aerial, naval and missile technology, as well as a formidable nuclear arsenal, the nation is primed to become a future superpower. Determined to control the Indo-Pacific, it is rapidly gaining the military resources to do so, regardless of any other nations with claim to regions like the South China Sea.
Adding to U.S. concerns, many of their existing military bases in the Pacific are now potentially under threat from recently acquired Chinese missile systems.
With a renewed focus on aggressive encirclement of Chinese expansion, the U.S. Pacific Command hopes to stifle Chinese economic and military expansion, and limit global Chinese influence. China, however, is more prepared than ever to cement its place upon the international stage. If doing so brings about conflict, so be it. The Chinese people are ready to restore their nation to its former glory.
PART II (Warning Signs)
October 14, 2012. A massive subterranean petroleum reserve is discovered off the Philippine coast in the South China Sea, in waters claimed by both the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China.
Fearing Chinese intervention or claim to a mutually beneficial oil site, and seizing upon an opportunity to further control the Indo-Pacific region, the U.S. Navy (in cooperation with the U.S.-Philippine Mutual Defence Treaty and the Philippine government) provides a large contingent of vessels to safeguard the site and facilitate corporate drilling operations.
China openly denounces what it perceives to be overly aggressive deployment by the U.S. to further its own interests and extend its influence, demanding that the U.S. naval contingent withdraw from the site immediately and allow a peaceful resolution of the situation to occur via diplomatic means. The U.S. declines, arguing that the contingent will remain in order to protect Philippine and U.S. interests from Chinese naval interference.
U.S./Chinese relations suffer a significant blow.
Wary of China’s newfound global power, many smaller Asian nations welcome increased U.S. naval presence, and gradually begin to look to U.S. vessels to provide regional security and protect shipping lanes, sparking Chinese fears of an emerging United States-led, south-east Asian anti-China bloc.
Fed up with blatant U.S. containment of Chinese expansion in the Pacific, and determined to decisively control the South China Sea, China’s leaders call for a new policy involving more assertive naval deployment. The People’s Liberation Army Navy is instructed to increase the number, range and frequency of its patrols, and extend its area of operations far into the western Pacific.
Anticipating potential conflict, the U.S. Pacific Command steps up its deployment of both land and naval military assets to Pacific bases.
China responds in kind by deploying PLA Ground Force troops and equipment to coastal areas, and stationing a carrier battle group in the East China Sea in order to deter further aggression.
The United States and China openly accuse one another of engaging in cyber espionage, and report experiencing and identifying malicious digital attacks against military intelligence and government agencies.
Tensions between the two nations reach an all time high, resulting in a preliminary deployment and arms build-up by both nations in the Indo-Pacific, termed and referred to by many as the Second Cold War. Lasts for eight months, during which numerous protests and rallies at U.S. and Chinese embassies take place across the world.
War-weary U.S. citizens, tired of foreign military deployments and only having recently emerged from multiple wars in the Middle-East, stage nation-wide protests to avoid being further embroiled in a much larger and costlier conflict. Citizens of the PRC are generally much more divided in their opinions; some believe that such assertive action is necessary in order for China to eventually earn its status as a future global superpower, yet many are wary of the political machinations of the government, and of state propaganda. Despite China’s cynical public, various state-funded nationalistic movements manage to take the nation by storm, successfully uniting much of the population in favour of government foreign policies.
PART III (Hostilities)
In another devastating computer security breach of the U.S. government, a CIA server is infiltrated, and a number of highly-classified documents regarding global intelligence operations and deployments are stolen by an unknown party. Throughout the ensuing week, multiple CIA assets in Jinan are apprehended.
In the aftermath of the infiltration, the U.S. government decides to declassify and publicly release evidence incriminating China as the perpetrator of Operation Shady Rat: a worldwide cyber-attack lasting nearly six years. This has massive international consequences for both nations, with N.A.T.O. and several governments around the world publicly declaring their support for increased U.S. deployment in the Pacific as a result. The revelation also garners a massive level of support for the U.S. government from the previously anti-war American public, and inspires thousands of civilians to enlist.
The extended range of PLAN operations results in an incident involving a protracted encounter between a patrolling Type 052C destroyer and a Perry-class frigate. The frigate, on a routine mission escorting Japanese merchant ships through the East China Sea, is halted by the PLAN and ordered to immediately withdraw. This results in a tense, hour-long stand-off between the two vessels, with authorities and commanders on both sides unwilling to stand down. The destroyer is eventually ordered by superiors to fire a barrage of warning rounds across the frigate’s bow. The U.S. captain, totally outgunned, highly stressed and mistakenly believing his vessel to be under attack, gives the order to engage the destroyer with torpedoes and attempt a retreat. The destroyer returns fire with anti-ship missiles, easily crippling and sinking the frigate, along with both Seahawk helicopters on board. U.S. aircraft in the area mobilised to assist the frigate are too late, and are instructed by superiors to return to their respective bases in order to prevent further losses.
Seventy-four U.S. naval personnel (including the ship’s captain) are reported killed or missing in action, and over one hundred sailors (including those wounded in action) are taken as POWs. It is the largest single loss of life suffered by the U.S. Navy since the Vietnam War.
Amidst international outcry over the incident, both nations blame one other. Chinese authorities argue that the U.S. vessel opened fire with intent to kill first, and the U.S. insists that the entire situation was caused by unnecessary Chinese intimidation and overt warmongering.
The U.S., with majority support from both N.A.T.O. and the United Nations, demands that China immediately return all POWs to U.S. custody. China agrees, on the condition that all U.S. Navy vessels permanently withdraw from the South China Sea. The U.S. refuses, and threatens direct military action unless complied with.
China responds to the U.S. threat by mobilising the majority of its naval forces to its Southern nautical perimeter, and announcing that any contact and/or conflict with U.S. forces in the South China Sea will be considered an act of war. The PLAAF initiates regular aerial patrols over potential oceanic attack vectors, enforcing the aggressive-defensive policy.
The two nations reach a political, diplomatic and stalemate in the Asian Pacific. Neither side is prepared to fully or even partially relinquish control of the region to the other in order to avoid potential hostilities.
The world is on edge as a war of immense proportions grows more and more likely. A multitude of U.N. resolutions are proposed in order to reach a peaceful conclusion to the crisis, but each is vetoed by either the United States or the People’s Republic of China, both permanent members of the Security Council.
Chinese leaders warn that nuclear options will be considered should U.S. forces continue to occupy the South China Sea.
U.S. commanders, faced with an impending conflict of potentially nuclear proportions and determined to send a clear message to China that nuclear threats will not be tolerated, resolve to launch a pre-emptive aerial strike against Yulin Naval Base utilising B-2 stealth bombers. The strike, while successful in neutralising several ballistic submarines and PLAN surface ships within the base and effectively collapsing its entrance, inspires international outrage due to the immediate proximity of densely-populated Yalong Bay hotels and tourist resorts.
The U.N. criticises the U.S. for what it calls a unfortunate overreaction, and an inappropriate application of military force with foreseeable political consequences. Following the attack on Chinese soil, China officially declares war upon the United States of America. The U.S.A. reciprocates. The Sino-American War begins on the 23rd of March, 2014.
PART IV: (War)
Both nations commence full-blown cyber-warfare campaigns against the government, corporate and military infrastructures of the other.
U.S. and Chinese air and naval forces wage a five-month-long war on and over the South China Sea. Meanwhile, six hundred thousand U.S. Army troops and vehicles are deployed to bases in South Korea, Australia and Japan, in an attempt to both dissuade North Korea from entering the conflict and establish a capable and self-sufficient land force in the region.
U.S. carrier battle groups in the South China Sea prove too powerful for the PLAN and begin to gain the upper hand, allowing the U.S. Navy to commence attacks and establish blockades against harbours and ports along China’s southern coast.
With a significant number of Chinese exports halted by U.S. blockades, economies around the world suffer. China, however, loses a massive percentage of its trade gross domestic income, and lacking self-sufficiency is severely impacted by the loss of vital imported goods.
Unable to reclaim the South China Sea via aerial and naval force alone and with no other means with which to end the debilitating blockades, China follows through with its nuclear threat, producing a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse directly above the South China Sea. The blast affects electronic components as far away as Thailand and the Philippines, and causes catastrophic damage to U.S. aircraft and ships in the immediate vicinity. Many vessels are temporarily stranded in the water or at nearby bases, with some aircraft even losing power mid-flight.
China’s wartime use of nuclear weapons is instantly condemned around the world. U.S. leaders debate whether or not to retaliate with a nuclear attack of their own.
Bowing to pressure from the international community and the omnipresent threat of mutually assured destruction should the situation escalate, China and the U.S. enter into negotiations concerning the use of nuclear weapons. After weeks of deliberation, the nations sign a historic treaty forbidding the deployment of nuclear weaponry in the immediate to indefinite future.
In the week following the EMP attack the PLA Air Force and Navy commence clean-up operations south of the Chinese coast. Employing precision air-strikes and anti-ship ballistic missiles, they attempt to destroy crippled U.S. vessels one-by-one before their damaged circuitry and equipment can be fully replaced or repaired. Without fully operational key air bases in the immediate area the U.S. is unable to provide sufficient air cover to prevent the onslaught.
Operating from Pacific bases in Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and Diego Garcia, U.S. bombers and their escorts begin to target Chinese air bases, harbours and other strategic assets with moderate success, but are gradually driven back by PLAGF surface-to-air missiles and PLAAF fighters. SEAD actions are met with mixed results.
Desperate to hit back at Chinese air assets and military ports, U.S. and allied forces stationed in South Korea, Japan, Australia and the rest of the Pacific stage a massive aerial and amphibious invasion of south-east China, code-named “Operation Dragonslayer”. Supported by U.S. and foreign aircraft, coastal towns and cities disabled by the electromagnetic pulse are invaded and occupied in an attempt to establish a barrier between PLAAF bases and the South China Sea, as well as deny vital harbours to the PLAN.
Caught by surprise due to EMP-disrupted communications, the PLA is slow to act, and over the course of two months hundreds of thousands of U.S. Army and Marine Corps personnel and vehicles land virtually unmolested upon Chinese soil, along with heavy equipment and supplies. Despite initial conflict with local garrisons, the U.S.-led invasion force is able to establish a definitive perimeter along the coast, diverting attention away from the South China Sea and driving back the PLAAF with anti-air missile systems of their own.
Although sceptics proclaim the invasion to be an act of short-sighted stupidity, damaged U.S. aircraft and ships in the region are subsequently able to undergo repairs in relative safety, and within weeks of the invasion begin to gradually step up their support of allied forces in south-east China.
With a growing number of surface-to-air missiles and fighter jets deployed along the Chinese coast, the U.S. eventually manages to achieve air superiority, allowing more and more reinforcements and heavy vehicles to land safely. Due to their initial successes, U.S. troops and aircraft also manage to consolidate their position and push further inland, assaulting targets of strategic importance such as highways and airstrips.
Having amassed a response force of almost four million Ground Force and Militia troops with supporting vehicles and aircraft, China retaliates by initiating a massive coordinated counter-attack along the entire invasion belt that plunges almost seven thousand kilometres of coastline into intense conflict.
Despite the massive toll U.S. ground attack craft and bombers take upon Chinese supply lines, the vast numerical advantage possessed by the PLA response force nevertheless begins to pay off. U.S. forces are gradually pushed back towards the ocean on almost all fronts.
PART V: (Conclusion)
Should the U.S. invasion force prove capable of containing the counter-attack and employing aerial superiority to their advantage, the tide of battle may very well turn in their favour and leave the PLA defenders expended, forcing a Chinese surrender.
However, should the Chinese military be able to force the invaders towards the sea and trap them there, the U.S. will suffer tremendous casualties as a result, leaving the Chinese people clear rulers of the Indo-Pacific.
The battle-lines are drawn. The world watches. Victory awaits.