Currently, it appears that China is taking on all comers with the Vietnamese trying to sneak in via the back door and the Philippines screaming as loudly as it can about territorial incursions.
First let's look at the players.
- Peoples Republic of China (PRC), one of the class A powers of the world. It is considered the largest country in the world (population wise - 1,339,724,852).
- Republic of the Philippines (RP), formerly a client state of the USA, it was the economic powerhouse of Asia until the mid-1980s when it dropped on the list. They are the 12th largest country in the world (population wise - 94,013,200).
- Socialist Republic of Vietnam (Vietnam), formerly a client state of the PRC, now it has grown into an economic powerhouse in its own right. It is considered the 13th largest country in the world (population wise - 87,375,000).
- Malaysia (Malaysia), formerly a British colony, the kingdom of Malaysia has grown in wealth and power, in no small part to its industrialization as well as the free trade they encourage. They are the 44th largest country in the world (population wise - 27,565,821).
- Republic of China (Taiwan), the remnants of the old government of China, they are normally the plucky underdogs against the PRC. They are the 49th largest country in the world (population wise - 23,174,528).
Now some people would not be convinced by the sheer population difference. Let us look at things by order of economy.
The IMF lists the PRC as the number 2 economy in the world (GDP 10,085,708 million dollars) with Taiwan at number 18 (821,781 million dollars), Malaysia at number 29 (414,428 million dollars), RP at 33rd spot (351,370 million dollars), and Vietnam at #41 (276,567 million dollars).
The numbers for the World Bank is pretty close. China (#2), Malaysia (#29), Philippines (#35), and Vietnam (#44). The World Bank doesn't recognize Taiwan.
*ALL NUMBERS FOR POPULATION AND ECONOMY ARE BASED ON 2010 REPORTS
Now some people would say that it was just money. So let's look at hardware. Let us begin with the naval side.
- PLAN or People's Liberation Army Navy may have the dumbest sounding name but with 275,000 active duty sailors and officers, operating 26 destroyers, 50 frigates, 3 ballistic missile nuclear submarines, 6 nuclear attack submarines, 53 diesel submarines, 62 amphibious warfare ships, 75 coastal missile ships, 29 large landing ships, 35 medium landing ships, and several hundred fast attack boats. This is the strongest navy in the area, bar none, specially with the support of 750++ aircraft and helicopters.
- ROCN or Republic of China Navy has 38,000 active personnel manning 4 destroyers, 22 frigates, 4 diesel submarines, 80 patrol missile ships, 8 minesweepers, and 15 amphibious ships. This is backed up by 25 patrol aircraft and 28 helicopters.
- PN or Philippine Navy has 24,000 personnel (though rumors have it that a large number are ghosts on the payroll) manning 2 frigates (1 of which is still in the US undergoing upgrades), 11 corvettes, 40 patrol boats, and 9 amphibious ships backed up by 10 aircraft (mostly transports) and 3 helicopters.
- VPN or Vietnam People's Navy has 42,000 personnel (though rumors have it that a large number are ghosts in the payroll) manning 6 frigates (1 supposedly for Myanmar), 20 corvettes (though supposedly half are unable to sail), 18 patrol boats, 8 "minesweepers" (allegedly mine-layers instead), and 20 amphibious ships. In addition they have 2 baby submarines who may or may not be in working condition.
- RMN or Royal Malaysian Navy has 14,000 personnel manning 8 fairly modern (2 of which are very modern) frigates, 6 patrol boats, and 1 submarine (which is rumored to have problems with submerging) backed up by 12 helicopters.
It is obvious that even were the PLAN only to send 1/3 of their naval strength against the combined forces of Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, and Malaysia that they would have an overwhelming force advantage. However PLAN does have its own share of problems. At least 1/3 of their navy must be kept ready near the Korean/Japanese area in case of a war there. In addition, they also have commitments of some vessels in the Indian Ocean. Still, without using unreasonable hypothesis, PLAN is only kept at home because of the fact that the USN does have the firepower to destroy them.