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I m trying to imagine how a conventional war would unravel between the US and China. Here is my fictional scearnio, let me know what you think!

Question: Is the following scenario realistic?

A few deades from now, the US debt reaches astronomical unsustainable levels. All the solutions proposed by the succeding politicians didn't work. The Chinese economy rivals the US economy and printing dollars no longer works. Oil suppply is getting really tight, other developped nations are also heavily indebted. A great economic depression hits the entire planet (US,Europe,Asia).

A populist president is elected in the US who blames all the issues on China. He decides to cancel the trillions of dollars of debt the US ows to China.

China is not really happy with this and tries to negociate a deal, without success. Conflict escalates as part of the Chinese population is also struggling from the crisis. The Chinese government collapses in a coup d'etat from the very popular Chinese Extreme Nationalists. They decide to declar war on the US.

The first 24H seem very quiet, nothing really happens. The entire world is frozen, wondering where the first battle would take place. Armies are fully mobilized everywhere, hackers are working hard to try to destabilize the other camp. However even if war is declared, it looks like both camps are not interested in escalating it to full scale immediately. Anti sattelites missiles are not shot, jet fighters are scrambled but never attack each other. Allies from both camps are very vocal and outraged but actually don't want to be part of that war. Russia and Europe take sides but don't really do much.

Surprisinlgy after a few days, China capitulates and strikes a deal with US. The US will repay only 50% of the original notional. Chinese and Americans are a bit baffled and don't understand why the war ended whithout a fight.

Well actually there was a fight but it all happend in the pacific ocean under the surface.

Dozens of US and Chinese nuclear submarines were roaming deep under the surface. Chinese submarine killers tried to destroy the American nuclear submarines and vice versa. However the more advanced US submarines won the sub marine war with the help of submarine drones.

Eventually, the US managed to position all of the nuclear submarines strategically around China. Checkmate.

At the same time, the US sent backchannel diplomatic envoys to China to negociate a deal. The US wanted to renegotiate the terms of the debt. They wanted to repay only 50% of the original debt. They also promised to send enormous amounts of money to the members of the Chinese Nationalist party to some hidden offshore accounts.

The Chinese nationalist had two options. Since China was surrounded by US nuclear subs, they would be at a strategic disavantage if the conflict escalated further. They could still go all in and launch all of their ICBMs. However they knew that it would end up in mutual annihilation. They had too much to loose and rationally accepted the deal from the US. Some members of the Nationalistic party refused to accept the deal and were executed.

The Chinese populace is very unhappy with the result but understands that a deal is better than a nuclear war. Americans are also unhappy about the fact that they still have to pay part of the debt to China but the US media starte a government backed campaign convincing people that they won the war and eventually the opinion accepts it.

End of World War III

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closed as unclear what you're asking by Mołot, Hohmannfan, Frostfyre, Thucydides, kingledion Nov 28 '16 at 20:47

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    $\begingroup$ And your question is? $\endgroup$ – Mołot Nov 28 '16 at 8:21
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    $\begingroup$ Currently this old .elder dragon is clinging tightly onto a falling one winged eagle, both are trying desperately to survive but we all know the Chinese dragon can fly right? $\endgroup$ – user6760 Nov 28 '16 at 8:32
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    $\begingroup$ For sure it's not a world war. If anything, it's just a skirmish between two countries. How can it be a world war if there is no war for most of the world? $\endgroup$ – Mołot Nov 28 '16 at 8:46
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    $\begingroup$ "Is it realistic". Not really, no. This is not a war, this is a minor skirmish. Also you have completely missed the scale of things. To have all of this happen in 48 hours is not realistic at all. Just getting the submarines in place is going to take much longer than that. $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Nov 28 '16 at 9:22
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    $\begingroup$ I think it would be really weird for one major power to declare war on another major power, and then restrict that war only to submarine assets. Heck, it'd be weird for a major power to actually declare war at all in the 21st century. $\endgroup$ – Deolater Nov 28 '16 at 15:34
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The main problematic thing (to me) is: I doubt that USA owes China that much money directly.

I guess it's mostly goes like this: Bonds issued by USA are owned by entity in Bermuda which is a subsidiary of Hong Kong firm that is in turn owned by Chinese goods exports firm. You get the idea

It's kind of hard to shave a given part of debt when it's mostly held by a chain of companies ending with some private hands.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yeah. I guess the debt thing is least realistic part of that post. $\endgroup$ – Euphoric Nov 28 '16 at 11:29
  • $\begingroup$ China owns outright about $1.2 trillion of the US government's debt in bonds. This represents about 7% of the total. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Nov 28 '16 at 20:47
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There are two parts that don't feel realistic to me.

First is the debt thing. Simply said "National debt doesn't work like that". National debt is not like normal debt, where on entity gives money to other and expects the money to be returned sometime in the future. It is much more complicated than that. And US not wanting to return the money would hurt themselves more, because then people wouldn't be willing to "lend" US money. Eg. it would ruin US's credit rating.

Second is the submarine war. The problem with this is that submarine is actually pretty bad when fighting against other submarines. There are actually much better ways to fight submarines. Those are mostly specialized sub-hunting ships, missile-fired torpedoes and aircraft that can detect and destroy enemy submarines. So this kind of battle would not go unnoticed.

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The US national debt is structured in a similar way to the tribute paid to the ancient imperial or royal powers. There's no plan or intent to ever pay off the debt, it's simply allowed to slowly depreciate against inflation while interest is (sometimes) paid on it. (This model requires continuous growth).

This allowance of continually rising debt is the price paid to prop up the current economic system. It's also tied to it being one of the safest investments in the world. The debt continues to rise, it is never paid off, it is never written off. Even threatening to write off this debt risks the collapse of most of the world's economies.

People say that national debt "is more complicated" than personal or household debt, this is true, because the collateral on the debt is the country and its economy.

In short, the US threatening to write off a debt to another country is utterly unbelievable, it could never happen. (And if it does, make sure your bunker is well stocked)

Also the description is that of a regional skirmish, not a world war.

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    $\begingroup$ The US does not have to default on debt to not pay back China. They simply have to deny SIPS to any chinese bank, or anyone who does business with the Chinese. I would assume that this would happen if we were at war with them. Now the Chinese have no way to cash in the $1.2 trillion in debt they own (as of 2015), and no third-party, neutral nation financial institution would dare buy it from them, since they would no longer be able to perform transactions in US dollars. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Nov 28 '16 at 20:46
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    $\begingroup$ @kingledion, any such threat that made holding the debt of the US government the slightest bit risky would collapse the whole system. Every country, every person, would look askance at the US debts they held and consider action to get it paid off or transferred. US government bonds would crash in value, as would many other related products. It could cause the downfall of the current capitalist system. It would be fine once the war had started, or if a nation was under embargo, as Iran was, but not before the war. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Nov 28 '16 at 21:03

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