It could mean a proxy war when the Pentagon says they will be “forcing them (the competitors China and Russia) to confront conflict under adverse conditions”. Where may it be?
“Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in the U.S. national security”, announced by the United States Defense Secretary James N. Mattis in his National Defense Strategy for 2018 (dated Jan 18 [Note1]).
China is named as the top threat before Russia, although both are categorized as “competitors” and “revisionist powers”, whereas North Korea and Iran are regarded as “rogue regimes”. The threats from China (and Russia) cover five areas, namely,
 “using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea”;
 “to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions”;
 “seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future”;
 “undermining the international order from within the system — violating principles of sovereignty, exploiting ambiguity, and deliberately blurring the lines between civil and military goals”; and
 “using corruption, predatory economic practices, propaganda, political subversion, proxies, and the threat or use of military force to change facts on the ground”.
The Strategy then outlines four counteractive tactics: “With our allies and partners, we will challenge competitors by:
[a] maneuvering them into unfavorable positions,
[b] frustrating their efforts,
[c] precluding their options while expanding our own, and
[d] forcing them to confront conflict under adverse conditions”.
The direct implication of “forcing them to confront conflict” is to force China to engage into a combat with an entity whom would be directly or indirectly supported by the U.S. or its allies.
Provoking China to fight with India over border dispute, to fight with the Philippines or Vietnam or Indonesia over the islands in South China Sea, and to fight with Japan over the disputes in East China Sea are definitely options on the table.
However, irritating Beijing to the extent that launching a civil war with Taipei without excuse for delay is the best option for the United States for at least seven reasons.
Firstly, national unification is a core interest to China [Note 2] and therefore Beijing can be easily cornered should Taiwan, with American aid, make any dramatic move to seek for secession.
Secondly, as the pro-secession Democratic Progressive Party is the ruling party in Taiwan, collaboration can be smooth and efficient. The leader Tsai Ing-wen is serving her first term as the president until 2020. Assuming she could win one more term, anytime before 2024 would be an ideal time for a proxy war.
Thirdly, the Pentagon can observe and evaluate how China runs a real war after decades of peace, so that Washington is able to assess how to make the next move. As Taiwan is a big island, Beijing must deploy forces in all domains — air, sea, land, space and cyberspace. Both strengths and weaknesses could be revealed under close surveillance.
Fourthly, since the Taiwan government is a democratic one, Washington has tons of reasons to justify a harsh media war against China globally, thus causing damage to its reputation.
Fifthly, at this moment, Guatemala, Honduras, Marshall Islands, Nauru and Palau maintain official relations with the Taiwan government. Given their support of Washington in the United Nations’ vote on Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem [Note 3], there is a chance that American aid of all kinds could be forwarded to Taiwan via them, thus putting China “under adverse condition”, even though Taiwan would then be encircled.
Sixthly, be it a short or long term war, China’s economy would be hurt to certain degree. International trade may suffer, inbound and outbound investments may shrink, reserves may diminish due to soaring prices of commodities and so on. A drag on a competitor’s growth is a gain to the United States.
Seventhly, in case Beijing could not recover Taiwan quickly, Washington could ignite one or more disputes elsewhere, thus putting China under more adverse condition and prolonging the pains. The ideal choice is a “bloody nose” preemptive strike on North Korea so as to destroy Pyongyang’s nuclear capacity [Note 4] when Beijing has no time and resources for this area.
Washington has already laid down some ground work for this move. That is why Beijing is protesting against the recent Taiwan Travel Act which “severely violates the one-China principle” due to its approval of official exchanges between the Washington and Taipei.
Chinese media also warns of retaliations from all sides after a new Taiwan bill has been passed in the Congress which allows US navy ships to visit Taiwan [Note5]. By irritating Beijing step by step, a civil war could become unavoidably imminent.
A new New York Post article openly asks “if Trump will defend Taiwan” and the reason is “Russia and Iran are threats, too. But China is the only power that can seriously challenge America’s economic primacy and, soon, outgrow our military” [Note 6].
Washington has a long history of operating proxy wars, from aiding Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to fight Iran, aiding Al Quadi to fight Russia in Afghanistan, aiding Kurds to fight ISIS and Syria, to supporting Saudi to fight Iran now.
As its heartland is under nuclear threat and its global domination is shedding, forcing China “to confront conflict under adverse conditions” and distracting China from supporting Pyongyang simultaneously serve the American interests greatly.
Under the shadow of Washington’s open and hidden manipulations, the tension between Beijing and Taipei will therefore escalate. Whether or not Tsai Ing-wen is likely to win a second term in Taiwan may determine how rush Washington would provoke such a proxy war. It means it could come as early as 2019.
Keith K C Hui
Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the USA:
Sharpening the American Military’s Competitive Edge
U.S. Dept of Defense, “NDS a ‘Good Fit for our Times’, Mattis says”, Jan 19, 2018.
China Daily, “Firms must respect China’s core interests”, Jan 17, 2018.
USA Today, “Here are the 7 small nations that sided with U.S. and Israel on U.N.’s Jerusalem vote”, Dec 21, 2017.
Newsweek, “Will Trump attack North Korea? CIA preparing ‘a range of options’ for President”, Jan 23, 2018.
Xinhua News, “China opposes Taiwan Travel Act passed by U.S.”, Jan 17, 2018.
Reuters via Yahoo, “China angered as U.S. considers navy visits to Taiwan”, Dec 14, 2017.
New York Post, “Asia is wondering if Trump will defend Taiwan”, Jan 23, 2018.
The 21st Century