US-China war: Is it inevitable?


Retired US Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster early this month warned that China is preparing its military for a war over Taiwan. He said Chinese President Xi Jinping, who secured a historic third term last year, has made it clear he plans to retake Taiwan. “Xi Jinping has made it quite clear, in his statements, that he is going to make, from his perspective, China whole again by subsuming Taiwan,” McMaster said. “And preparations are underway.”

From Bloomberg: “An Air Force general said in an internal memo that the US and China risk going to war in two years and told officers under his command to prepare, including with target practice, NBC News reported. General Mike Minihan, head of the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command, said he has a gut feeling that the fight will happen in 2025, while saying he hopes he’s wrong, according to NBC. He said presidential elections in the US and Taiwan in 2024 would create an opportunity for China to move against Taiwan.”

President Joe Biden’s administration has repeatedly expressed concern about China’s military buildup and what the US views as a more aggressive Chinese stance toward Taiwan. A national security strategy presented by the administration in October called China the only US competitor “with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do it.”

In a new book—Danger Zone: The Coming Conflict with China—authors Hal Brands and Michael Beckley assert that China is at a perilous moment: strong enough to violently challenge the existing order, yet losing confidence that time is on its side.

“Numerous examples from antiquity to the present show that rising powers become most aggressive when their fortunes fade, their difficulties multiply, and they realize they must achieve their ambitions now or miss the chance to do so forever. China has already started down this path. Witness its aggression toward Taiwan, its record-breaking military buildup, and its efforts to dominate the critical technologies that will shape the world’s future,” the authors said.

Over the long run, they said the Chinese challenge will most likely prove more manageable than many pessimists currently believe—but during the 2020s, the pace of Sino-American conflict will accelerate, and the prospect of war will be frighteningly real.

Michael E. O’Hanlon is a senior fellow and director of research in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution, where he specializes in US defense strategy, the use of military force, and American national security policy. He said: “A war involving the US and China could not easily be contained. Neither Beijing nor Washington would accept defeat in a limited engagement. Instead, the conflict probably would expand horizontally to other regions and vertically, perhaps even to include nuclear weapons threats—or their actual use. It literally could become the worst catastrophe in the history of warfare.”

Will the Philippines be dragged into a US-China war?

President Marcos said he hoped to strengthen ties with Beijing on his first state visit to China since taking office. On the other hand, the President has embraced the country’s alliance with the United States, reviving the dormant Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which allows the US to deploy conventional forces to five select bases in the Philippines.

In November, the Marcos administration hosted US Vice President Kamala Harris on a visit to Palawan, where she underscored Washington’s support to its long-time treaty ally “in the face of intimidation and coercion in the South China Sea,” an obvious reference to China.

In an article published by—What Would a US War with China Look Like?—Doug Bandow said: “If conflict does break out, tamping or reversing Chinese aggression in the Western Pacific could require a massive use of force. This would be the first major conventional war between nuclear—​armed powers. Both governments might find it difficult to eschew a resort to WMDs in such a conflict. Indeed, the very nature of the battleground would risk escalation. Chinese use of mainland bases would force the US to target them. And the PRC’s targets would at least be US possessions and bases in the Asia—​Pacific, ensuring civilian death and destruction.”

The Philippines, having recently shored up its ties to Washington, will have difficulties staying neutral in case tensions escalate between the US and China over Taiwan. Let’s hope that the US and China can keep rising tensions from evolving into a shooting war, which would be extremely destructive and could result in the use of nuclear weapons.


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Editorial Cartoon January 31, 2023

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