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 air, navy, and ICBM bases on the Chinese mainland. China also has a base in Djibouti in eastern Africa, and another under construction in Cambodia.
All the other military bases in the region are also shown.
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. China refers to them as the Nansha Islands. They 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 northern Philippines is reported to be for the protection of Taiwan.
On April 3, 2023, the Phillipines announced that the United States will be using their military base on Balabac Island. They had previously announced that the U.S. would be using their base on Palawan. Both of these islands are about 350 miles from China's base on Mischief Reef in the Spratley Islands. In the 1990s, China warned the U.S. to keep out of the South China Sea militarily. You can read about this in the article The Battle for Mischief Reef written by Indian author B.Raman.
It seems likely that the U.S. intends on placing a submarine base on Balabac Island.
For more information on these disputed territories, consult the Wikipedia pages, whose links are below.
This page has intersting information germane to the Spratley Islands: Philippines v. China: Arbitration Outcomes
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, following President Obama's historic trip there in November of 2012. 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.
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.
UPDATE: In August of 2023, GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy say that if he was president, he’d work with India to deny China access to the Straits of Malacca and the Andaman Sea.
In 2021, China built a 330 meter long pier at its Djibouti naval base. The pier is long enough to handle China's new aircraft carriers.
Wikipedia: Spratly Islands
Wikipedia: Paracel Islands
Wikipedia: Battle of the Paracel Islands
Wikipedia: Johnson South Reef Skirmish
The Battle for Mischief Reef
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
China's Ballistic Missile Industry
Federation of American Scientists: The Pentagon’s 2020 China Report
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)