China military bases
Chinese balloon
Chinese spy balloon

While Americans are focused on the battles between their parties in Congress and their attention glued to TV reports about secret documents, the cold war between the United States and China is heating up. As this is being written, a Chinese balloon drifts above the United States and news stories ask why the military has not shot it down.

Other news stories report the U.S. opening seven bases in the Philippines and spending more money to upgrade existing bases in Guam.

The map below shows the locations of all known Chinese military bases. These are air bases and naval bases. China has a base in Djibouti in eastern Africa. If you zoom in, you'll see a red marker and the U.S. bases close by. Japanese and Taiwan bases are also shown. Both countries are allies of the United States. We recently added military bases in North Korea.

NKN Korea

The Longpo submarine base on Hainan Island is underground and can survive a significant attack. Hainan Island is in a strategic location, sitting in the South China Sea. It's about seven miles from the Chinese mainland, separated by the Qiongzhou Strait. To its west is the Gulf of Tonkin, separating it from Vietnam, about 150 miles away.

The Jianggezhuang Naval Base near Qingdao on the Yellow Sea also has an underground shelter for China's Xia-class ballistic missile submarine. The base also hosts several Han-class nuclear attack subs.

There are two disputed territories that China wants to dominate. About 200 miles to the southeast of Hainan Island are the Paracel Islands, which is disputed territory. Vietnam and Taiwan claim rights to the Islands, but China has established a permanent presence there.

The Spratley Islands are much further to the southeast, about 640 miles away. These islands are claimed by Malaysia, Taiwan, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Brunei. The islands are close to the Philippines, so it's no wonder the U.S. is opening bases there. However, the U.S. presence in the Philippines is reported to be for the protection of Taiwan.

For more information on these disputed territories, consult the Wikipedia pages, whose links are below.

To a degree, China is cursed by geography. Its sea lanes to major world markets run through choke points controlled by countries that are not allies. Wikipedia has done a good job describing this.

Isthmus of Kra

You might have noticed that the U.S. military has been trying to cozy up to the Myanmar government in recent years. One reason for this is Myanmar's territory extends south to the Isthmus of Kra. This is the stretch of land that connects mainland Asia to Malaysia. The isthmus separates the Gulf of Thailand to the east with the Andaman Sea to the west.

Isthmus of Kra map

A canal cut through the isthmus would offer Chinese vessels a more direct route to the Indian Ocean. They wouldn't have to sail south to Singapore and through the Straits of Malacca. The United States has a naval base and an air base in Singapore. Should the Kra canal be built, the U.S. wants to be sure they have some control (or influence) over it.

Cutting a canal through the mountainous isthmus would be a big job, at least as big as digging the Panama Canal. Then there's the environmental impact. However, the marine traffic through the Straits of Malacca is huge. Check out the Marine Vessel Traffic through the strait. Spreading the traffic over another path would benefit many countries, not just China.

Additional Reading

Wikipedia: Spratly Islands

Wikipedia: Paracel Islands

Wikipedia: Battle of the Paracel Islands

Wikipedia: Johnson South Reef Skirmish

U.S. Naval War College: Territorial Disputes: The South China Sea

Council on Foreign Relations: China’s Maritime Disputes

Wikipedia: Sea lines of communication

Thailand Opposes Strategic Canal Across Kra Isthmus

CNN: China has built the world’s largest navy. Now what’s Beijing going to do with it?

CNN: China and Cambodia break ground at naval base in show of ‘iron-clad’ relations

Behind the Periscope: Leadership in China’s Navy

Insights into the DPRK Military Threat Gained From Commercial Satellite Imagery

North Korea's Underground Navy: A Review

Japan-U.S. joint military exercise simulates defending and recapturing remote islands

Treaties and Agreements

Wikipedia: San Francisco System

Wikpedia: Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty

Wikipedia: Security Treaty between the United States and Japan

Wikipedia: Mutual Defense Treaty (United States–Philippines)

Wikipedia: Philippines–United States Visiting Forces Agreement

Wikipedia: Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Philippines)