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Is a U.S. - China War Looming on the Horizon?

Russia just rained missiles all over Ukraine. Japan was hit with a 7.5 earthquake. North Korea tested more ballistic missiles and mouthed belligerent threats towards the United States. Iran’s proxy, the Yemeni Houthis keeps harassing oil tankers in the Red Sea despite displaying American flags. Iran moves a warship to the Red Sea after the U.S. Navy sank Houthi boats. Israel continues pounding Hamas and has expanded attacks on Syrian targets. Chinese president Xi Jinping’s New Year address said China’s reunification with Taiwan is “inevitable.” American forces in Syria and Iraq under attack over Israel support.

Meanwhile, China’s Coast Guard vessels keep on harassing Philippine resupply missions to its troops at the Second Thomas Shoal viewing such missions as “provocations and harassment.” A Chinese spokesman even made an audacious claim of the Philippines humanitarian missions as a “ploy to create an incident.” The spokesman also warned the U.S. to stop meddling in the South China Sea issue.

China’s rhetoric has accelerated after President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. announced a possible tripartite security pact with Japan and the United States. This is on top of evolving U.S. troops presence in the newly added nine military authorized under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). The recently signed 2024 National Defense Authorization Act contains billions of dollars for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI) which will invest funds for constructing airfields, ports and other infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific theatre including Camp Johnson in Northern Philippines.

Viewed in totality, a clearer picture emerges. The United States is preoccupied militarily in many places, Japan is focused on the aftermath of a deadly earthquake that has caused enormous damage to Japan’s infrastructure, and the Philippines has upped the tempo of possible incidents with the Chinese at the South China Sea. The upcoming presidential elections in Taiwan on January 13 is closely watched where the ruling party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), a U.S. ally is poised to win the contest in a plurality of votes over the Kuomintang candidate supported by China.

Clearly, Taiwan or the Philippines could provide the spark that could ignite a possible world war. If an armed conflict does come, what would it be like? Well, for starters China would do well to learn from Imperial Japan when it attacked Pearl Harbor while America was busy prosecuting the war in Europe. Perhaps the biggest lesson from it was America’s willingness to use nuclear weapons – the atomic bomb. China is greatly disadvantaged in the nuclear balance of power with Washington. The question is, who would go nuclear first?

If the Cold War between the former Soviet Union and the United States serves as a basis, then mutually agreed destruction (MAD) is probably not going to happen. Nobody wins such a war. The next possible scenario is invading Taiwan through conventional means. China could overwhelm Taiwan’s defenses but with the United States Navy being deployed at Taiwan Straits before the election to ensure the success of such democratic exercise, it will respond. China will have second thoughts about a protracted war with the United States. China’s current economy is in bad shape and starting such a war could be economically devastating.

The next possible scenario is the DPP loses the presidential election to the Chinese backed Kuomintang, then it’s iron curtains for Taiwan following the Hongkong formula. Will there be a peaceful transfer of power knowing that Kuomintang (KMT) presidential candidate parrots President Xi’s call for unification. This is clearly the best and inexpensive route for China because it has already tested the world’s lack of resolve in the case of Hongkong where China’s iron fist is on display with the continuing crackdown on dissent.

The latest poll shows the DPP candidate slightly ahead, but social media disinformation is slowly transforming the polling numbers. If the trend continues, the outcome could be headed to a stalemate and a recount can be performed at the request of either candidate Taiwan’s Constitutional Court ruled in November 2023. At this point, anything can happen that can escalate into an uncontrollable outcome like a military confrontation.

Taiwan’s election can be overshadowed by an outside event like a military confrontation that the Chinese warned the Philippines and Japan about at the South China Sea. A Chinese induced military escalation at the South China Sea early in 2024 can catch the Philippines and the U.S. flat footed because the Northern Philippine bases are not significantly up to it and American naval forces are probably near Taiwan to be able to preempt such development. The U.S. military presence in the country is thin to be able to simultaneously defend any Chinese attack.

Even if China can quickly overwhelm and occupy Taiwan, the conventional battle doesn’t really end there. Rather, it will just be the beginning of a long-protracted war much like in World War II because there will be other actors that will join the fray. Will Russia abandon Ukraine and form an axis with China versus a Western coalition? Will South Korea join the coalition knowing North Korea will cross the DMZ at short notice. Thus, the Indo-Pacific theatre is ripe for the picking. It is just a matter of discerning the right moment.

The confluence of events points to a high degree of possibility for conflict. Whether it begins in the Korean Peninsula, Taiwan Strait, South China Sea, or the Sea of Japan; one thing is certain that it will not be short-lived or confined to a narrow area. Any of these sources of potential armed conflict will mean a direct confrontation between two super and regional powers. India is a wild card with a long history of cross border conflict with China. India is a member of the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) that includes Australia, Japan, and the United States.

If war breaks out in the Indo-Pacific region, there is no telling if the Arab League will rise to the occasion in defense of the Palestine cause and begin their own military campaign against Israel. Iran, although not a member of the league, has been urging Arab nations to unite against Israel. The Arab League has long opposed the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine in 1947 but have involved themselves in cross-border wars with other Arab countries as proxies of bigger powers particularly the United States and Russia.

China has supplied Hamas with weapons. China and Saudi Arabia are strategic allies and so is the United Arab Emirates. China has decades of cooperation agreements with Iran. Egypt’s ironclad support of the One China principle is solid. As a matter of fact, China’s Silk Road has weaved through many Arab countries and brought not only economic stability but military weaponry. China who has openly supported the Palestinian Liberation Organization stands to gain in a conflict arising out of the Middle East. The United States pre-occupation in the Indo-Pacific and Ukraine (along with NATO) can leave Israel vulnerable from a major regional conflict.

Will China be the new Lawrence of Arabia who will stoke Arab nationalism?


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