In the last commentary, we looked at what has been screamed and done in the past few weeks around Taiwan, China, Australia and that region.
So why is everyone in the Western Pacific/East Asia area pushing so hard that war is a concern?
Sea lanes, the world economy, internal Chinese tensions, geopolitics and demography. Read on to see what fun is going on!
The sea lanes here in the Western Pacific and even the Indian Ocean and Oceania are important: none of the East Asian nations except Indonesia have significant sources of petroleum. Although China is seeking to develop ways to import the stuff from Russia overland in pipelines, most fuel comes from the Middle East by sea: around India and Malaysia and up the China Sea. China seeks control, challenging the century-long Anglo-American domination and promotion of “freedom of the sea.” And China, like Russia and Germany before her, is trying to become a major naval power.
The world economy was trashed – and still is – by the Pandemic Panic of 2020-2021. And the sea lanes around the eastern and southern part of Asia are vital to what is still viable. This economic crash has hit China hard economically, as have various decisions by Beijing: the most recent being the forced end of crypto-mining in China. Some describe it as the Chinese economic engine as throwing a cylinder: others think it is more a train wreck. China’s massive infrastructure spending and bizarre command-economy with heavy state and private capitalism is bearing evil fruit.
Demographics are really bad: Japan is seemingly dying. While Taiwan and the Republic of Korea are holding their own, the North is a permanent basket case: a miniature version of the late Soviet Union: seemingly militarily powerful but a hollow shell with a rotting, starving, 1984-style society and economy in the shell. But China’s demographics are worse in many ways: the one-child policy of the past has produced a society with way too many males – and surplus males make for instability and aggressive behavior. This in turn impacts on China’s internal economy and bodes ill for the future.
(Even though the Fifty States (by repudiating Trump, among other things) lost its best opportunity in a half-century to become truly self-sufficient in much of our economic needs and so still needs China.)
Making things worse, China wants to replace the Soviets as the SECOND superpower on the planet, even if part of a triad (EU, US, China) and plans to supplant the ever-more disgusting and hated Yanks as THE world power. And at the same time, “restore” dominance over the ring of unfriendly nations between China and the Pacific. BUT they realize that American collapse could very well trigger their own internal collapse: but the power brokers in Beijing may have little choice: foreign adventures can be the key to maintaining control at home.
Westerners tend to think of China as a monolithic society, but it is not: the northern Han rule an empire with a huge collection of ethnicities and even nationalities as distinct and unique as the various Europeans are: from Finland the the Baltics to the Iberian Spaniards and Portuguese, and from Brittany to Greece. Not just Manchurians and Tibetans and Uighurs and Mongolians, but the many peoples of South China. The differences are still there, even after 70 years of suppression under Mao and his successors. China learned from the failure of the Great Russians in the Soviet Union, but probably not enough. As a whole, the Chinese society is very fragile in a lot of ways. And with even the least economic slowdown, the stress on it grows.
And China is in a difficult situation geographically – and one reason for its ethnic/cultural/national fragmentation. Even in the 21st Century, things like rivers and mountains are important avenues and barriers to travel. And despite its efforts, it is still a land empire, militarily and economically: it is not a seafearing and trading power like the Japanese, Brits, Dutch – or even Americans.
And the clock is ticking for China: although it sees the American power declining as the Russian power did, the Chinese power even more is living on borrowed time. Its economic place in the world is rapidly being replaced by the South Asians, and although it is a huge economy, it is very much dependent on the rest of the world. Far more than the American or European economies are, when you get right down to it. Recent signs that the Chinese economy is slowing down or even “off the tracks” are more and more obvious, despite efforts to hide them. When puts a lot more pressure on Beijing to do something to (a) detract attention, (b) patch up the cracks, and (c) buy more time domestically.
All of these things mean that China is willing to take big risks. And try and take advantage of the usual stupidity of the Western powers: which include (like it or not) Taiwan, Korea, Japan, and Australia. And their present weakness.
Which leads to a conclusion that, bad as it might be, war with Taiwan might be their choice. After all, a “short, victorious war” can seemingly be like magic in dealing with internal problems.
Of course, who says a war would be both short and victorious? (And by implication, small?) Wanna bet on it?