Talk of war has become louder in recent days, but the “drumbeat” has been heard for some time now as China’s military capabilities have grown.
China does not want war, at least not yet. It’s playing the long game and its evident intentions have become more unnerving. Scholars like Brendan Taylor have identified four flash points for a possible conflict with China, including Korea, the East China Sea, the South China Sea and Taiwan, but conventional war is not likely at this stage.
The armistice between North and South Korea has held for nearly 70 years. The pandemic has severely constrained North Korea’s economy and its testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles has ceased, for now. China has a stake in keeping Kim Jong-un’s regime in power in the North, but the prospects of reverting to a hot war have flowed and ebbed. Just south of Korea, in the East China Sea, China has intensified its military activities around the Japanese-claimed but uninhabited Senkaku Islands.
China appears to be wearing down Japan’s resolve to resist its claims over what it calls the Diaoyu Islands. The United States has assured Japan the islands fall under their mutual defence security guarantee. But a confrontation with China could test US backing and possibly set the stage for escalated confrontation elsewhere.