In-Depth

by Malcolm Riddell

The most dangerous place on Earth
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'The most dangerous place on Earth'

The Economist

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May 7, 2021
'The most dangerous place on Earth'
'The most dangerous place on Earth'
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The most dangerous place on Earth

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BIG IDEA | ‘Taiwan: the most dangerous place on Earth.’

‘Taiwan is an arena for the rivalry between China and America.’

  • ‘Although the United States is not treaty-bound to defend Taiwan, a Chinese assault would be a test of America’s military might and its diplomatic and political resolve.’

‘If the Seventh Fleet failed to turn up, China would overnight become the dominant power in Asia.’

  • ‘America’s allies around the world would know that they could not count on it.
  • ‘Pax Americana would collapse.’

‘But war would be a catastrophe, and not only because of the bloodshed in Taiwan and the risk of escalation between two nuclear powers.’

‘For decades a high-calibre ambiguity has kept the peace between America and China over Taiwan, an island of 24m people, 100 miles (160km) off China’s coast.’

  • ‘Leaders in Beijing say there is only one China, which they run, and that Taiwan is a rebellious part of it.’
  • ‘America nods to the one China idea, but has spent 70 years ensuring there are two.’

‘Today, however, this strategic ambiguity is breaking down.’

  • ‘The United States is coming to fear that it may no longer be able to deter China from seizing Taiwan by force.’

‘What has changed of late is America’s perception of a tipping-point in China’s cross-strait military build-up, 25 years in the making.’

  • ‘The Chinese navy has launched 90 major ships and submarines in the past five years, four to five times as many as America has in the western Pacific.’
  • ‘China builds over 100 advanced fighter planes each year; it has deployed space weapons and is bristling with precision missiles that can hit Taiwan, US Navy vessels and American bases in Japan, South Korea and Guam.’
  • ‘In the war games that simulate a Chinese attack on Taiwan, America has started to lose.’

‘Some American analysts conclude that military superiority will sooner or later tempt China into using force against Taiwan, not as a last resort but because it can.’

  • ‘Admiral Phil Davidson, who heads the Indo-Pacific Command, told Congress in March that he worried about China attacking Taiwan as soon as 2027.’

‘This analysis is too pessimistic—perhaps because hostility to China is becoming the default in America.’

  • ‘Xi Jinping, China’s president, has not even begun to prepare his people for a war likely to inflict mass casualties and economic pain on all sides.’
  • ‘In its 100th year the Communist Party is building its claim to power on prosperity, stability and China’s status in its region and growing role in the world.’

‘All that would be jeopardised by an attack whose result, whatever the US Navy says, comes with lots of uncertainty attached, not least over how to govern a rebellious Taiwan.'

  • ‘Why would Mr Xi risk it all now, when China could wait until the odds are even better?’

‘Yet that brings only some comfort.’

  • ‘Nobody in America can really know what Mr Xi intends today, let alone what he or his successor may want in the future.’
  • ‘China’s impatience is likely to grow.’
  • ‘Mr Xi’s appetite for risk may sharpen, especially if he wants unification with Taiwan to crown his legacy.’

‘Most disputes are best put to rest. Those that can be resolved only in war can often be put off and, as China’s late leader Deng Xiaoping said, left to wiser generations.’

  • ‘Nowhere presents such a test of statesmanship as the most dangerous place on Earth.'
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Part 1 | ‘Why do business and political leaders in the West persist in getting China so wrong?’

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Part 4 | ‘Myth 3: The Chinese Live, Work, and Invest Like Westerners’

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