The conflicts of our time

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan - The Philippine Star

There are two ongoing wars and one potential flashpoint in our world today. For lack of space, let me first share my thoughts on the Ukraine-Russia War and the status of China’s threats to invade Taiwan. I will reserve my insights on the Israel-Hamas-Iran war for another time since events are still unfolding.

Last October, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky proposed a ten-point peace plan to the members of the G7. The plan was supported by the powerful alliance but, as expected, was flatly rejected by Russia.

Fast forward to February and Zelensky made an appeal to an unlikely mediator, Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud (MBS), Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia. Zelensky asked MBS to broker a peace deal with Russia yet again. While the Crown Prince expressed keenness to support the peace effort, it is highly unlikely that Putin will accede, even upon MBS’s request.

Recently, Switzerland announced plans to host a peace summit this June. This too will likely fail to forge a truce. Even now, Putin said he would not attend and even described the event as a “circus.”

Why the belligerence on Putin’s part?

Putin needs a big win to even consider a peace treaty. He had already expended too much Russian lives, time, money and global goodwill to come home with just a truce. This war cannot end with Russia and Ukraine as equals – that would be akin to a defeat. It will be embarrassing, not to mention the end of Putin’s political career and legacy.

Truth is, all of Putin’s attacks on the Ukraine failed in that they never got to crush the Ukrainian forces. Credit to the Ukrainian people for their resiliency.

Putin needs to show that this war was worth something for the Russian people. Only a victory in some way, shape or form will open a way for a truce.

Neither the G7 nor Ukraine has announced a winning concession for Russia – not yet, at least. But they will do well to do so at some point if this war is to end.

Until then, Russia will continue to pummel the Ukraine until more territories are subsumed. This is the only win Putin is looking towards, at this juncture. And if Russia succeeds to occupy a critical mass of Ukraine, it will gain the leverage it needs to expand its crusade to former members of the Russian empire. Moldova and Georgia are most vulnerable.

This is why the west must continue to support the Ukraine’s defense efforts and why we must give Putin his win, however ceremonial.

China’s economy and its threatened invasion of Taiwan

Xi Jinping inherited a China that was the world’s emerging superpower. He made a mess of it. Today, China’s economy is fundamentally damaged. Its bad behavior in trade and aggressive foreign policies are backfiring. And because Xi doubled down on his iron-grip over the people’s rights, the Chinese people too are reeling in discontent.

China’s economic problems are deep and systemic. Its debts have become virtually unmanageable at 288 percent of GDP. Its property sector has collapsed. Its banking sector is drowning in non-performing loans. Private consumption is dismal. Pension and health care expenses are rising due to its aging population.

China’s economy was never as strong as they purported it to be in the first place. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been notorious for fudging their statistics. Plus the CCP has engaged in malinvestments to artificially pump-prime its economy. Hence, the prevalence of ghost cities.

China’s economic woes have made the Chinese people poorer. This is because 70 percent of the net worth of Chinese households are tied-up in property and their values have plummeted. Youth unemployment is at an all-time high and not surprisingly, public discontent is rife.

Diplomatically, China is counted as a pariah state, thanks to Xi’s policy of continued defiance of World Trade Organization rules, insolence towards United Nations treaties and ignoring rulings of international courts. Adding to its bad reputation and diminished trust among nations is its record of leading impoverished countries to debt traps.

One way to save the Chinese economy is through FDIs. China needs dollars to pay its mountain of debts. This is why Xi agreed to visit Biden last November. His real objective was facetime with American CEOs and woo them back to the mainland. But it didn’t work. The risks remain high, given Xi’s anti-espionage laws that allow government to arrest and detain expats.

China is much weaker today than it was during Jiang Zemin’s and Hu Jintao’s presidencies.

About Taiwan. Although China has been preparing for the siege for years (a detailed explanation is forthcoming in a future column), its amphibious forces are simply not ready.

It will take China’s navy several hours to cross the Taiwan Strait. During this time, US satellites would have detected its movements and mobilized a barrage of anti-ship missiles from Guam.

Even if China succeeds to land in Taiwan, its capabilities to re-supply its troops are insufficient, at least not with the Taiwanese and US forces standing in the way.

But lest we put our guard down, there are certain circumstances that can still trigger China to attack. First, if Taiwanese President Lai categorically declares independence from China. Second, for political reasons. A war will distract the Chinese people from their grievances and unite them. Third, if the People’s Liberation Army pressures Xi to invade now (rather than later) since the generals are aging and their war preparations will soon be for naught. Fourth, the power struggles within the Chinese Communist Party become so dividing that a war is used to unite the party. Fifth, if China’s grey zone intimidation tactics are met with armed response.

Putin and Xi are both belligerent and unpredictable. Anything can happen.

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Email: [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @aj_masigan

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