Will there be war?

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

The most important geopolitical question in Asia today is the issue of Taiwan and China’s plan to annex the island nation. The problem is that most observers are looking at it as an isolated issue, just like they are doing in the question of the Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea being claimed by China.

It is time that we begin to look at the bigger picture here, from the long-term ambition of Xi Jinping. In his article in Foreign Affairs, Professor Rana Mitter, professor of the history and politics of modern China at the University of Oxford, recently wrote: “Those who want to project forward to a malevolent, expansionist China point to evidence of aggression in Beijing’s posture today. Those with the less apocalyptic view highlight more accommodating features in Chinese policy or note that China will face plenty of challenges that will keep it from reshaping the world even if it wants to.”

It is obvious that China under the leadership of Xi Jinping is trying to reshape Chinese ambitions. It also seems to believe that they have the power to achieve this vision. If this is true, there will be a new Cold War with China as the future version of the Soviet Union. Among geopolitical observers and thinkers, there is clearly uncertainty about China’s aims.

There is also, however, a growing body of analyses that seeks to determine the essential elements that are shaping its aspiration. On the surface, Chinese aspirations for global power are shaped by its utilization of authoritarianism in its governance; its population’s desire for consumerism; Xi Jinping and the Communist Party’s global ambitions to be the next superpower or to replace the United States as the world superpower and its acknowledged leadership in technology.

According to Prof. Mitter: “The Chinese Communist Party wants to firm up its grip on Chinese society, encourage consumerism at home and abroad, expand its global influence and develop and export China’s own advance technology. China’s current standing and future prospects cannot be understood without seeing all four of these goals together.”

I believe that the most serious objective of China in the last decade has been to present their authoritarian system of government as the ideal governance system for the whole world to adopt. For example, China has presented this authoritarian model as the governing model that should have been used to address the global financial crisis that started in 2008. Although the coronavirus pandemic started in China, it was still China that propagandized that authoritarianism was the best tool for suppressing the virus. I think that the reason China has the zero virus policy is because of its claim that the government system was the best way to combat the virus.

If China fails to completely suppress the pandemic, it will be seen as a failure of authoritarianism. This will also put into question the ability of the Communist Party to fight major epidemics and similar disruptions in society.

In China’s world therefore, the issue of Taiwan would seem to be more than just a question of territorial acquisition. The bigger issue is the assertion of China that it is the model for the world to imitate in terms of governance, economic progress and technological advancement. The question of whether China and the United States will go to war over Taiwan cannot be seen just through the prism of conflict over the ownership of this island. We need to remember that Taiwan is a vibrant democracy with an economy whose technology can be measured way beyond its size and population.

In effect, Taiwan is a political, social and economic model whose success shows that the authoritarian model of China is in fact not the ideal model for the rest of the world to follow.

Prof. Ritter has written also: “The biggest obstacle China will face is not the hostility of the United States or other adversaries. It is instead China’s own authoritarian turn. Beijing’s commitment to that aspect of China’s core identity will make it far harder for the other three nucleotides – consumerism, global ambitions and technology – of its DNA to recombine successfully, stoking hostility abroad and raising barriers between China and the world it strives to remake.”

China’s growing stature in Asia is due to its ability to present its nondemocratic side as a model for other countries to imitate. For those who espouse democracy and human rights, the Chinese authoritarian model must be seen as the wrong model to follow. One example is the public exposure that most of China’s perceived promise to invest in the Philippines has not come true. Perhaps those who aspire for democracy and human rights should begin to look at an opposing model in Asia. This model can be Japan.

Going to the issue of whether there will be war over Taiwan, the possibility is completely negligible unless it is by accident.

How do wars begin? There are two simple answers to this question by past historians and philosophers. According to Thucydides of ancient Greece, wars between a declining and an emerging power are inevitable. In his book, “Clash of Civilizations” by Samuel P. Huntington, conflict between the great civilizations of the world – Christian, Islamic, Hindi and Sinic – are also considered inevitable. But the most apocalyptic theory of wars is the idea that this is an illusion and that wars never end.  Therefore, war is endless. If we abide by these theories, sooner or later there will be war between the United States and China.  We can only hope and pray that it will be a Cold War or a series of small conflicts like the one in Vietnam or the Middle East.  Hopefully, it will not be a violent nuclear war.

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Young Writers’ Hangout on Aug. 27 with returning author-facilitator Mica Magsanoc, 2-3 pm. Mica was once a young writer with us too! Contact [email protected]  0945.2273216

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