Is China at war with a country?

Görlach Global: Who is holding China in check?

When an earthquake struck Taiwan in February 2018, the government of the democratic island state preferred to accept the aid of the former colonial power Japan rather than that of the neighboring People's Republic of China. At least 17 people were killed and around 300 injured in the earthquake.

As always, when Beijing doesn't get what it wants, it turns to threats: Japan shouldn't interfere in Taiwan! The People's Republic of China regards the small country as part of their territory, because the island became part of China after the end of the war that the Japanese Empire lost.

Pineapple pressure means

Japan, which wreaked havoc and committed crimes by occupying parts of China, has become a permanent advocate of Taipei since the People's Republic's autocratic leadership has blatantly threatened the country with occupation and war. Only a month ago, when Beijing surprisingly stopped importing Taiwanese pineapples, Japan promptly bought up the harvest and thus helped the country out of the sudden need.

So far, Joe Biden (far left) and Yoshihide Suga (on the left monitor) only know each other from the screen - the first "Quad Summit" of the USA, Japan, India and Australia took place on March 12th.

It is therefore perfectly clear that Taiwan will be one of the hot topics when Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga becomes the first foreign head of government to visit US President Joe Biden in Washington. But it will not remain the only topic that the two partners will discuss with each other: China is becoming increasingly aggressive and sometimes sends its naval forces, including aircraft carriers, past Okinawa, Japan.

China adopts Putin's Crimean strategy

Because Taiwan is not the only island in the area that the People's Republic wants to incorporate: Not far from Taiwan are the Senkaku Islands, which Beijing also regards as its own. But that's not all: at the end of March, over 200 ships landed in the South China Sea on the Spratly Islands. The Philippines speak of a Chinese militia, Beijing nonchalantly of "fishing boats". In Xi Jinping's empire one learned from Vladimir Putin, who with the occupation of Crimea created facts that the world community could only reverse through a war.

Beijing is accordingly confident and does not believe that the rest of the world would dare to go to war with the country. In truth, scholars argue about whether the so-called "People's Liberation Army" would really be able to attack Taiwan, which - like any independent country - has an army and win the war without completely destroying the island. At the moment, only one army can stop Beijing's expansion with certainty - and that is the US. So far, President Biden has not explicitly committed to defending Taiwan militarily against the People's Republic. Although the USA has a vital interest in this: The country produces the chips that are also essential for the US economy and that are in every smartphone.

Clear positioning required

If Beijing's grip on the uninhabited islands from Japan to the Philippines were successful, then the communists would be masters of this region of the world and control world trade as they see fit. Japan, on the other hand, is militarily protected by Washington and has only maintained so-called self-defense forces since the Second World War. So if there were to be an armed conflict with Tokyo, the US would be in demand here too.

The world community would do well to observe what is happening in the waters around China even more closely - and to draw conclusions from them as to how one would position itself in the event of a war. Postponing this positioning is dangerous in view of the worsening situation. Joe Biden has promised the Americans to be tough on China. Japan will work closely with its key ally on this. But how will the other powers of the West position themselves in the face of the growing threat of war?

Alexander Görlach is Senior Fellow of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs and Senior Research Associate at the University of Cambridge at the Institute for Religion and International Studies. The PhD linguist and theologian was also a Fellow and Visiting Scholar at Harvard University from 2014-2017, and a visiting scholar at the National Taiwan University and the City University of Hong Kong from 2017-2018.