12/22/2020, 12.50
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War in the Pacific: 'Danger zone. Beijing could react '

by Emanuele Scimia

Noted military expert James R. Holmes says the outbreak of a conflict between the US and China is more likely than ever. Economic and demographic problems could push the Chinese to attempt operations against Taiwan and in the South China Sea. Beijing aims for a short war; the US will try to prolong it, as it did with Japan in World War II.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - “We are in a danger zone in which Beijing may conclude it must act now or forego the opportunity forever," says James R. Holmes, C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the US Naval War College in Newport, speaking to AsiaNews about the possibility of a military conflict between Washington and Beijing.

China and the United States – and not only – are deploying more forces, spending more on armaments and stepping up military exercises in the Indo-Pacific region. In recent days, a Chinese aircraft carrier – with its escort vessels – and a US destroyer passed through the Taiwan Strait, considered together with the South China Sea to be the most sensitive geopolitical front in the area.

A war in the Pacific between the US and China – Holmes argues – is more likely than at any time in decades, and for reasons that may at first appear contradictory. “China's policies exude both bombast and feelings of insecurity. Bombast because China now feels strong after its economic and military accomplishments of recent decades, insecurity because Beijing must realize it is turning the region against it through its bullying," he notes.

Moreover, the US academic discerns that things are not going well in China: “Certainly demographics is turning against it, and establishing an Orwellian surveillance state and crushing minority rights cannot be signs of a regime confident in its future.”

With a growing awareness of its weak points, it may be that China sees this as its "military moment", perhaps a "fleeting one", says Holmes. The Communist leadership feels strong now, but fears that the future trend is unfavourable: "If things are going to be worse for you a year from now, the temptation is to act now while opportunity favors you.”

A possible war scenario could see China attempt to forcibly recapture Taiwan (a rebel province for the Chinese), or extend its control over other islands and islets in the South China Sea. Holmes thinks Beijing will try to shorten the clash as much as possible, wrapping things up before the United States and its allies can step in. This is the “neatest, cleanest, less hazardous option" for China. On the other hand, he explains that the United States would like to prolong any conflict, not necessarily for years, but long enough to allow it to defeat or undo aggression.

According to the naval expert, what could arise is a partial repetition of what happened during World War II. Back then Japan knew it could not win a long war, while the US "prolonged the war while it built up enough military might to turn back Japanese conquests".

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