At its weakest, China was still a country to be conquered and colonized. Unlike India, there was a central govt for many centuries under different empires, including the Mongols and the Manchurians. The vastness of China, its relatively homogenous population and centuries of cultivated civilization, science and technology, arts and literature, social system, history and a sophisticated written language, gave it a special advantage over the Mongols and the Manchus. Both conquerors and rulers of China became absorbed by the Chinese civilization and were sinicised in the process. Instead of China becoming Mongolia or Manchuria, both states became China.
China came under the concerted attacks of the Western powers in the 19th Century. Despite its relative strength in numbers, though inferior in technology, it was no match to the technologically superior foreign forces. They applied strength in concentration of fire power and mobility to decisively defeat the Chinese by piece meal. They could mobilize and move their troops at will and at great speed and to choose their battle fields. A few British ships could hit port cities after cities, though numerically small, but superior in a localized context, and triumphed over the less mobile and scattered forces of the Chinese troops.
The European powers controlled the sea with their powerful naval power till today, with the Americans and their aircraft carriers and strike groups. The Americans were superior in nuclear weapons and delivery system. The Americans were also superior in the sea and have control of the air space as well. And they also have military bases at China’s front yard, in South Korea and Japan.
The balance of power was overwhelmingly in favour of the Americans in all areas of warfare. The Americans could even conduct a conventional land battle in Chinese soil by landing American infantry divisions there.
This American superiority and dominance over the Chinese faded overnight at a speed that has taken the Americans by surprise. The equation has changed dramatically and it is no longer feasible for the Americans to a fight land warfare in China. Neither do the Americans have control of the sea or air superiority in the seas surrounding China any more. The Americans could still be very superior in nuclear warfare with their arsenal of ICBMs and nuclear warheads. The problem is that nuclear warfare is no longer an option between the two powers and superiority in this theatre is as good as academic.
What is left of the equation? With air superiority and control of the seas thrown out of the window, American aircraft carriers can no longer be the launching pads for its fighter bombers to attack China. Neither can they ferry the troops to land in Chinese soils. The Chinese are capable of taking out the aircraft carriers should they dare to venture within their strike range.
The military bases in South Korea and Japan still offer such advantages but will be top priority targets to be knocked out in the early stages of hostility. In fact all the military bases in South Korea and Japan, including Korean and Japanese bases with be taken out of the equation the moment hostility is declared. China cannot afford any bases to be operational for the Americans to launch their attacks into Chinese territories. A thousand missiles were aimed at Taiwan when Chen Shui Bian and Lee Teng Hui attempted to break away from China. The number of missiles aiming at South Korea and Japan could be many times more to ensure nothing is left standing. South Korea and Japan better pray that there is no war between the two giants. They will be targets number One.
They cannot believe that China will let the Americans used their bases to attack her. It used to be a very safe game to play when China could not even hit a target a hundred meters from its own shores. It is a new China that has the ability to take out anything in South Korea and Japan.
Without Japan and South Korea to launch their attacks, can America really conduct a war with China from the eastern front, from the seas? In all circumstances, China has more or less neutralized and secured its eastern front. The other possible battle fronts will be Vietnam, India and Chinas’ south western corner. This could be the reasons why there were so many ongoings between the Americans and these countries. The question is whether these countries would think they could get away with a war on the side of the US. Assuming the leaders of these countries are not fools, there is no reason to turn their countries into battle zones for the two super powers.
When the Chinese are capable of hitting their enemies across all their borders, war between China and the US is increasingly more difficult. The balance of power has been leveled between the two superpowers. Both are no longer comfortable to fight a war with superior advantage. America can still claim overall superiority in many areas. But no one will emerge the winner in a war between the two superpowers.
It was a totally different ball game when the Americans could strike China from their aircraft carriers with impunity. This option is closed. Any reckless attempts could see the aircraft carriers and the whole battle group sink into the East and South China Seas like the Prince of Wales and the Repulse in the Second World War. Gone were the days when the American naval task force could sail up and down the China Seas to threaten China and the Chinese could not do anything about it.
The new balance will prevent the adventurous from embarking on their crazy adventures of assured self destruction. It is also game over for little pesky countries.