Speculations Mount as US-China Tensions Rise

Dec 16, 2016
By: Jerry A. Goodson
In: Politics

Military action?  Trade wars?  Diplomatic resolution?  These were topics briefly discussed between me and a friend of mine in private message on social media.  Several hours after the conclusion of that conversation, an editorial video pops up titled, "Trump and China: What's at stake?" on CNN.com.  CNN Correspondent Matt Rivers addresses all the points highlighted in my private discussion.  It was almost as if he were commenting on our discussion.

Just five days ago, I published my supportive stance for the independence of Taiwan in "Taiwan is a Soveriegn Nation."  I condemned the acquiescence by the U.S. of China's continued oppression of Taiwan under the One China Policy.  The focus of that piece was Taiwanese independence, and U.S.-China relations were briefly touched on for context only. 

No one can dispute tensions are rising between the U.S. and China.  Rivers carefully explained that it is unclear if the phone call between Trump and President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan sparked those tensions, although they rose sharply after the phone call.  

The Fallacy of Economic Sanctions:

China has threatened economic sanctions, or more specifically, engaging in trade wars with the U.S. if President-elect Trump pursues formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan after he takes office.  Following through on those sanctions wouldn't hurt the U.S. economy as much as it would China's.  This is pure speculation, but the U.S. economy is almost twice as large as China's.  The U.S. engages with roughly $600 billion in trade with China.  Regarding the One China Policy, the rest of the world presumably went along with China's demand to abide by the policy for conditional diplomatic relations because the U.S. did.  China's economy heavily relies on the relationship with the U.S., and that diplomatic relationship has been mutually beneficial.  However, if rising tensions progress to enacting economic sanctions, it wouldn't be China against the U.S., it would be China against the world.  China's economy couldn't withstand that level of trade warfare.

Big Fish in a Small Pond

Tensions aren't just high between the U.S. and China, either.  China has threatened to withdraw from the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) over disagreements over territorial waters in the South China Sea.  Although the U.S. is not a party to UNCLOS, China's refusal to abide by the treaty could impair the ability of the U.S. to ship products to and from countries through the South China Sea.  China is claiming soveriegn territory throughout much of the sea, in disagreement with the Philippines.

A tribunal was held and deemed China was illegally claiming territory that China is not entitled.  China rejects the legality of the tribunal, and has threatened to withdraw from the treaty altogether.  It's also important to note this started happening long before the U.S. presidential election.

China is the big fish in UNCLOS.  With the exclusion of the U.S., China has the largest economy of all the nations in the pact.  The presumed perception is China believes their withdrawal could weaken the legitimacy of the treaty.

The Military Option

China has been posturing in the South China Sea.  The country has built artificial islands in the sea, and those pieces of new real estate enable the Chinese to claim more "international waters."  On those Islands, China has built military runways and air defense positions.  Construction is already complete on many of those artificial islands.

Yesterday, China committed an act of aggression towards the U.S. when a Chinese warship illegally seized a U.S. unmanned underwater vehicle (underwater drone) in international waters.  
(see CNN: Pentagon demands China return US underwater drone)

We can only hope for diplomatic resolution.  The U.S. can't get sucked into another "Vietnam" right now.



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