Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei looks like an open provocation to Beijing. But it could be just a “biz as usual” for the Taiwanese, to get used to the People’s Army fighters breaking “Formosa” island’s air defense control area, almost on daily basis, since the victory of pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2016 and then again at the January 2020 elections. The root of this stance could lay even earlier.
In 2014, China was close to engaging a friendly government in Taipei. At that time, the People’s Republic of China (PRC, that is mainland China) appeared willing to grant significant economic concessions in negotiations with Taiwan under the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA).
A simple tool to foster and enhance cross-Taiwan Strait ties for the possibility of peaceful unification. Of course, it has triggered the concern and worry of some Taiwanese people, particularly when President Ma Ying-jeou pushed the cross-Strait Trade-in-Services Agreement (TiSA) full speed ahead at the Legislative Yuan (LY) in March 2014. Then the Beijing Communist’s dream of a “peaceful ” reunification faded. And issues started to rise again.
The South China Sea crisis was just a piece of a large puzzle involving even Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. The main frame is the China-US confrontation in Asia. It was not only a geostrategic/geopolitical game, it was and it is a systemic clash. A military confrontation between the two world giants is so likely to happen that in 2016 a think-tank like the Rand Corporation’s Arroyo Center (sponsored by the US Army) produced a 112-page long paper focused on gains and losses, facts and figures about a war between the two countries. Beijing and Washington have a large concentration of military forces operating in close proximity. “If an incident occurred or a crisis overheated, both have the incentive to strike enemy forces before being struck by them”. This is a simple but terrible statement that shows how evil could be trivial and how doomsday could be behind the corner. But what is the “rationale” of such an unthinkable outcome?
Unfortunately, we wrote several times about this issue – our planet isn’t big enough to satisfy the resources consumption of these two giants. They have to decide to step down their development speed by themselves. Think again. It will never happen. So, unless God makes a miracle, it is just a question of time. That maybe explains the hurry of Elon Musk to move human kind to Mars…!
America had shaped a time “window” from 2015 to 2025 as favorable to win a military confrontation, and the analysis made some friendly postulates to show a warless “end of the world” choice. That window is coming closer.
They postulate that a war “would be regional and conventional”. It sounds like the same US mindset that casted the foolish Ukrainian crisis. It would be waged by ships on and beneath the sea, by aircrafts and missiles of many sorts and in space (against satellites) and cyberspace. Rand planners assume that fighting would start and remain in East Asia, China will not attack the US homeland and that both sides will not use nuclear weapons. There are too many suppositions. But here, the most dangerous assessment: “Even in an intensely violent conventional conflict, neither side would regard its losses as so serious, its prospects so dire, or the stake so vital that it would run the risk of devastating nuclear retaliation by using atomic weapons first”. Nobody can be sure about that and it is insane just to think about it.
The economic factor is more suitable and heinously “friendly”. Although war will hurt both economies, “damages to China could be catastrophic and lasting: on the order of 25-35% reduction of GDP in a yearlong war, compared with a loss of US GDP on the order of 5-10%. International response could also favor the US in a long and severe war undermining the legitimacy of the Chinese regime”, according to Rand’s analysis. A strong ally of America and a natural competitor of China like Japan could make the difference by 2025 in the course of war. If these kinds of assessments are not scary enough, let me enter into military ones.
Both sides would suffer large military losses in a severe conflict. In 2015, America’s losses could be a small fraction of forces committed; China’s losses could be much heavier. This gap in losses will shrink as Chinese A2AD (Anti-access/Area-denial) capability improves. By 2025, the US’ losses could range from significant to heavy. The obvious and underlined suggestion is “better fight this war soon”. Can you imagine a President like Donald Trump dealing with such a matter? Let’s talk about US assets in the Asian scenario. Basically, Washington relies on the 7th Fleet based in Yokosuka (Japan) deploying from 60 to 70 war ships and 1 carrier group with the USS Ronald Reagan and its 5th Air Wing that means roughly 300 aircrafts. Even 40,000 Marines and US personnel are stationed in the area of the 7th Fleet. In May 2012, America made a deal with Singapore; so far 4 LCS (Littoral Combat Ship) Freedom class are based there to patrol the Malacca strait and Sonda Sea. It needs to mention how this specific frigate was built for this kind of purpose. Australia and New Zealand are historical key allies of the U.S. and are a background stronghold. Vietnam and Indonesia are two forward but yet fragile actors of Washington’s anti-Chinese stance. In case of war, one of the main tasks of surface and underwater assets of the South East area will be to shrink and cut the supply chain to mainland China. Stop the shipping lines carrying oil, gas, raw material and goods to suppress the Chinese economy. The military base in Guam island is strategic for the US Navy’s quick deployment in the area.
A recommendation is that the US has to “invest more” in survivable force platforms (submarines) and conduct contingency planning with key allies, especially Japan. So, it’s good news for military industry contractors already very actively selling submarines around the Pacific area.
After the US announced (in 2016) that they would deploy a THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system) in South Korea, even the Chinese leadership started to talk about a “new Cold War” (xin leng zhan, in Chinese language) more seriously. Officially it served as a deterrent against the North Korea threat, but basically it will be a shield even for Japan and 7th Fleet bases. The Okinawa US base needs its own chapter, because its doom could shape the Japanese future. It is not the case in this article.
Moreover, after July 2016, the 12th ruling by an Arbitral Tribunal at the Hague that invalidated China’s territorial claims, Washington was feeling more comfortable about implementing a fait accompli policy in Asia. Whoever talks about the China-Russia axis like a counterbalance to US policy does not know the history that showed all its complexity during the Ukrainian war.
Out of contingency needs, Beijing and Moscow are not natural allies. Russia is more a problem in Europe and the Middle East than in Asia. But there was another historical US ally that was going to give some headache to Washington. And he did It giving a bad example. The president of the Philippines had promised to dismantle the nation’s 65-year-military alliance with the US, warning Washington not to treat the nation “like a doormat” and telling he can turn his head toward Beijing. Maybe Rodrigo Duterte is fostered by a past US diplomatic blunder: in 1991, the US lost the important Subic Bay naval base facilities because of bad dealing with the Philippines government.
Anyway, he kept closer to China and even the new elected President in May 2022 changed the situation. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. known as Bongbong, is likely to be influenced by the policies of both his father, former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, yielding a new government interested in engaging China while keeping the United States close. That is a wise policy if you mind National interest. Marcos has consistently lauded his father’s achievements, one of which was maintaining a strong security alliance with Washington in spite of bilateral frictions, and he is politically aligned with Duterte, who sought to pivot away from the United States to China. That means the US influence in Asia and globally is at stake.
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