05/06/2020, 15.14
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Coronavirus: Washington and Beijing at risk of armed conflict

by Emanuele Scimia

A Chinese intelligence paper disclosed by Reuters makes this claim. For the US, China is exploiting the pandemic to advance its military and strategic interests in Asia. The two are facing off in the China seas. An invasion of Taiwan is unlikely at this time. For Shen Dingli, mutual distrust is hard to reduce anytime soon.

Rome (AsiaNews) – The propaganda war between China and the United States over the origin and spread of the coronavirus, with Washington blaming Beijing for the pandemic, is acquiring more and more a geopolitical dimension.

According to a Chinese intelligence paper, disclosed by Reuters, the pandemic crisis has undermined relations between the two powers to such an extent that China and the United States are at risk of armed conflict.

For China’s intelligence community, the anti-Chinese sentiment in the world – fuelled by the Americans – has been at its highest level since the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, and this puts the country's strategic and trade interests at risk.

US authorities have not confirmed the existence of the confidential report. The Trump administration continues to repeat, however, that China is exploiting the pandemic to pursue its military and strategic interests in East and Southeast Asia.

Beijing claims much of the South China Sea, where it occupied islands and coral reefs, building a large number of military installations. Several countries in Southeast Asia, backed by Washington, are opposed to China’s actions in the area.

China has also challenged Japan's claims over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea – Tokyo is a key US ally – and has not ruled out using force to recover Taiwan, which it considers a "rebel" province.

China’s Navy, together with its Coast Guard and maritime militia, operates regularly in contested waters, forcing the naval forces of Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines to response.

Recently, the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning, escorted by other military vessels, sailed between Japan and Taiwan into the South China Sea.

Some observers inside and outside China are persuaded that the United States, hardest hit by the coronavirus, would be unable to oppose China’s armed forces in the China seas and the Taiwan Strait.

Meanwhile, nationalist circles in China are pushing for an invasion of Taiwan. The scenario is unlikely to unfold for now. As some Chinese military leaders note, an attack against the island would be very expensive, in both political and economic terms.

At present, China is struggling to recover after the lockdown. Any action against Taiwan would only worsen anti-Beijing feelings around the world. It would also likely provoke a military response by the United States.

In the past month, US planes and warships have stepped up their presence in the Asia-Pacific region, conducting joint operations with their Australian and Japanese counterparts.

“If our adversaries think this is our moment of weakness, they are dangerously wrong,” said David L. Norquist, US Deputy Secretary of Defence, on 9 April.

The Pentagon has asked for US$ 20 billion to boost its military standing in the western Pacific, to meet China’s gradual rearmament. Between now and 2026, the US military wants to increase land-based firepower and distribution of forces in the region. It aims to block Chinese naval and air activities within the first island chain between Japan and the island of Papua.

The pandemic has exacerbated US-Sino tensions, already frayed by two years of confrontation over trade and technology. And the situation can only get worse.

For Shen Dingli, professor of international studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, the opportunities to open areas for cooperation between the two powers are minimal, both now and in the future.

“Mutual mistrust will not disappear anytime soon, given Beijing's rapid growth and its desire to obtain an international position in keeping with its strength," Shen told AsiaNews.

In his view, the picture would not change much with the election of a democratic president in the US, given that the latter could also put pressure on the Chinese government over the issue of human rights.

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