China: The Struggle for Territory Eclipses Trade

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 6, June 2020

By William R. Hawkins

A tank unit of the Chinese Army underway. The number of tanks in China’s armored forces ranks third in the world. The main battle tanks have the ability to fight under nuclear and night conditions. Photo by: Sovfoto/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In February 1999, President Bill Clinton opened a major foreign policy speech by  claiming, “Perhaps for the first time in history, the world’s leading nations are not engaged in a struggle with each other for security or territory. The world clearly is coming together.” This was the height of the post-Cold War delusion that history had come to an end and that a new world order had dawned based on a global partnership for economic development. Yet, Clinton knew that this was still a work in progress. In the same San Francisco speech he talked about conflicts in the Middle East, Southwest Asia and the Balkans, the threat of nuclear proliferation, and the need to bring Russia and China “into the international system as open, prosperous, stable nations.” The emphasis, however, was always on economics, a peaceful way to rise within classical liberal theory, transcending political issues and separating wealth from power in an interdependent world.

The classical liberal view held that wealth could be best pursued outside the bounds of sovereign territory. Borders were not to impede the movement of people, capital or goods which were motivated by material gain and self-improvement. Their frame of reference was the efficient use of resources world-wide to maximize global output, not their relative use among national sub-units. Peace would be the result of economic interdependence as trade could gain access to resources at less cost than conquest, and that once entangled in global supply chains, the cost of disruption for political reasons would be unbearable. The classical worldview was very popular in the 19th century prior to World War I and revived briefly during the interwar years only to be once again vanquished by World War II. The rapid onset of the Cold War kept such idealism in check, but it burst forth again after the Berlin Wall came down, symbolically opening the world to new possibilities.

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War In The Taiwan Strait Is Not Unthinkable: Some Will Lose More Than Others

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 11, November 2019

By Grant Newsham

Screen capture of Chinese state media video of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops training for an assault on Taiwan’s presidential office. Pictured is a mock building at the Zhurihe military base in China, that mimics the actual building in Taipei. The video aired July 5, 2015. CCTV via Apple Daily.

Whether anyone actually ‘wins’ a war is a philosophical debate.  The Germans and Japanese in 1945 might have thought wars do indeed have winners.  But perhaps it’s better said that in most conflicts some parties ‘lose more than others.’

Such would be the case if Beijing attempted to militarily subjugate Taiwan.  And Xi Jinping just might do so.  He declared in a January 2019 speech that “we (China) do not promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option to use all necessary measures (to take Taiwan.)”[1]

The Battle for Taiwan would have truly global consequences, akin to the invasion of Poland by the Soviets and Germans in 1939.

However, much of the debate over a Taiwan Strait conflict focuses on preparation for and conduct of the PRC’s attack: whether Beijing will or won’t attack, what an attack might look like and Taiwan’s ability to defend itself, whether the US will or should get involved and whether it ought to sell Taiwan ‘this or that’ weapon.  Such discussion is useful, but the actual consequences and longer-term ripple effects of a fight over Taiwan deserve much more attention.[2]

This paper examines key aspects of what happens once the shooting starts, and the follow-on global economic and political effects.  The envisioned scenario is a full-scale PLA assault against Taiwan, but it’s worth noting that even a ‘limited’ assault–such as against one of Taiwan’s offshore islands–may not stay limited for very long: given Beijing’s oft-stated determination to take all of Taiwan, an off-shore island assault would only constitute a tactical objective in the march on Taipei, and would also have serious and wide-ranging political and economic consequences.

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