Don't rule out war over Taiwan

Don't rule out war over Taiwan

Last week was a busy one for China. Headlines took note of fresh harassment of Taiwan, reports of possibly illegal gold mining by Chinese firms in Ghana, and of separatists threatening to attack Belt and Road projects in Pakistan and Malaysia.

Meanwhile, Malaysia is looking into reports that Beijing offered to bail out the state development fund 1MDB, the victim of the world's largest money-laundering operation under the former government.

Back in Beijing, fresh trade talks with the United States appeared to have gone nowhere, and President Xi Jinping met with North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un. All this in less than seven days.

China is everywhere nowadays. Blatant military expansion in the South China Sea, and new ports such as Gwadar in Pakistan and Hambantota in Sri Lanka are part of a plan for further regional dominance. In Africa, it continues to pursue economic occupation and resource extraction, while closer to home it props up client states such as Cambodia and Laos with generous financial support.

All these developments suggest China is confident that no one can stop it from doing whatever it wants. It may be right. If Nato and the UN are helpless to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin from taking back Crimea, who would stop China from doing the same with Taiwan?

Most Taiwanese do not want reunification with the mainland, President Tsai Ing-wen said last week. Given "the worst-case scenario of China using force", she said, Taiwan is preparing to fight but knows it will need help.

Will China go to war to get back Taiwan? Who will help Taiwan? The US? Given that his predecessor failed to stop Russia in Crimea, what hope is there for the current US president to stop China when he is busy with "America First" and his stupid wall?

Now that President Xi has become ruler for life, he wants to fulfill the Communist Party's long-held aim of unification with Taiwan and make it a hallmark of his presidency. He has warned that China will not rule out military action to reclaim Taiwan under a "one country, two systems" model.

"China must and will be united … which is an inevitable requirement for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people in the new era," he said in his speech to commemorate the 40th anniversary of a message sent to Taiwan in 1979.

There was warlike rhetoric as well last week from Dai Xu's, a Chinese air force colonel, who said China should attack any US ships visiting the neighbourhood and "be ready to take over Taiwan".

"If the US warships break into Chinese waters again, I suggest that two warships should be sent: one to stop it, and another one to ram it," he was quoted as saying by the Global Times, the English-language mouthpiece of the Communist Party. "In our territorial waters, we won't allow US warships to create disturbance."

The latest US provocation came on Nov 28 when it sent two Navy ships through the Taiwan Strait to demonstrate "the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific", the US Pacific Fleet said in a statement.

But will there be a war over Taiwan? In his 2018 book, The Four Flashpoints: How Asia Goes To War, Brendan Taylor, associate professor at ANU Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, argued that the small island is certainly capable of sparking a US-China conflict.

"America's military ability to defend Taiwan is already at its limit. The US advantage will likely be gone in a decade … allowing Beijing to deny America access to this theatre," he wrote. "America's ability to intervene in the Taiwan Strait is receding, while an attempt to re-engage carries the risk of sparking 'a war like no other'."

With trade tension festering and China asserting itself, the cost of peace might outweigh the cost of war, and that is when conflicting countries go to war. The good news is that Donald Trump might not be interested in going to war with China first.

But if the trade war becomes too expensive for America, if the debts to China become too large to bear, the war machine lobbyists might sway the president and Congress to pursue America's claim to sole superpower status. Then blame it on freeing Taiwan. I for one sure hope that a Sino-US war will not happen, but the prospect is indeed getting too close for a peace of mind.

Erich Parpart

Senior Reporter - Asia Focus

Senior Reporter - Asia Focus

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