China bombshell: How Beijing is 'picking fight with Vietnam before bigger battle with US'

CHINA is embroiled in yet more diplomatic unrest over the hotly contested South China Sea as experts claim Beijing could be making plans to take military action against Vietnam.

The South China Sea has become a cauldron of tension with the US and China squabbling over its distribution. Trade and military presence are the two main motives behind the congested competition in the area. China has already tried to influence Australian foreign policy in the past, using businessmen's political donations to try and change Canberra's stance to being pro-Chinese ownership. Australia enjoys key strategic links with the UK as a member of the Commonwealth but also with the US, as troops regularly touch down for military exercises.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is an organisation maintaining cooperation between states on factors such as military, political, trade and alliance issues in the region, therefore playing a vital role over the South China Sea and China.

Beijing is trying to pressure Vietnam into halting its exploration of seas and resources in contested waters, but in July China sent fleets to the Vanguard Bank, an area that lies in the Vietnam economic exclusion zone.

Occupying the Vanguard bank would mean Chinese ships would no longer need to return to mainland China for refuelling and maintenance during journeys into the South China Sea.

It also means they can patrol much closer to the Vietnamese coastline and for longer periods of time.

scs

Xi on a diplomatic visit to (Image: getty)

protest

China has been aggressive in its movements in the SCS (Image: getty)

In his article for the Asia Times, David Hutt outlines that the rising tensions between the countries could lead to a repeat of 2014 when a Chinese oil rig Hai Yang Shi You 981 moved into Vietnamese waters.

China's behaviour has not escalated the situation just yet, but increasing pressure on Hanoi has coincided with increased military spending by the Vietnamese government that could reach $7.9billion by 2024.

According to Derek Grossman, a defence analyst at RAND, China would most likely initiate any violence towards Vietnam first because Beijing sees the state as a beatable opposition and their “preferred warm-up fight".

Chinese and Vietnamese forces last came to blows in 1988 during a skirmish around the South China Sea’s Johnson South Reef, a clash that killed 64 Vietnamese soldiers.

That followed on a brief but bloody border war in 1979 where both sides lost thousands of soldiers.

READ MORE: 
‘Hostile action!’ China sends dire threat to UK warships

scs

China and Vietnam have a troubled history over the SCS (Image: getty)

scs

Military exercises are commonplace in the region (Image: getty)

Vietnam has also signed new defence agreements with the EU and Japan this year. Most important, however, would be if Hanoi could win more strategic assurances from its former battlefield foe the US.

Despite being on the same side in the dispute, it is not guaranteed that the US would come to Vietnam's aid should violence erupt.

Then US president Barack Obama declined to defend a treaty ally when China seized the Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines in 2012. Neither did Obama provide any support to Vietnam during the 2014 Hai Yang Shi You 981 standoff.

DON'T MISS:
South China Sea crisis: How Beijing tried to divide Commonwealth

scs

Vietnam's PM Nguyễn Xuân Phúc (Image: getty)

Trump has remained passive so far, with US-China relations already on their knees as a result of an ongoing trade war between the two super-powers.

Xi Jinping, according to Hutt, will morbidly see Vietnam as a test-war , serving as an indication of their capacity to take on bigger nations in the area.

Violence is not likely by any stretch of the imagination, but China are showing no sign of compromising on their aggressive approach.