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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Global instability on the rise?

22 September 2021

The world has never been a particularly peaceful or stable place.

Throughout mankind's existance on the planet there has always been one tribe, faction or nation at war with another somewhere out there.

The reality is that we're a confrontational, sometimes violent species who still allow our basic instincts to over-ride our commonsense far too often.

Whilst, at an individual level, most of us try to avoid violence at all cost, there are those who, by virtue of their positions of power, able to engage in campaigns of violence without being exposed to any personal risk. This is why we see so many wars claiming countless lives when the disagreements that started the conflict might have been better resolved around a table or by pitting the leaders of the groups involved directly against each other in a room full of knives.

The question I'm asking today however, is whether things have gotten a bit worse of late.

I mentioned the Afghanistan situation yesterday but perhaps this is now the least of our problems.

Today, US president Joe Biden assured the world that he was not looking to engage in a cold war with China.

Is that actually as reassuring as we might think?

If not a cold war then what kind of war is he thinking of waging?

To be fair, I think the USA will not be an aggressor any time soon. It's still too busy licking its wounds over Afghanistan to have much of an appetite for more conflict right now. However, China might not be so focused on peace.

Having successfully annexed democracy in Hong Kong, I expect that China is feeling pretty cocky right now and the jewel that is Taiwan might be awfully tempting as its next act of "reclamation".

The need to "do something" may also be driven more than a little by the rather tenuous position of Evergrande, a massive Chinese property developer that is about to default on a number of bond issues, potentially to the tune of US$300 billion. If Evergrande were to fail, this would be a huge blow to China and the CCP as the authority in command of the country.

This huge corporation isn't alone in its financial woes. According to a Nikkei report "Chinese corporate bond issuers defaulted on about 116 billion yuan ($18 billion) in the first six months of 2021, the highest figure for any January-June period"

Even though China runs a trade surplus with the rest of the world of around half a trillion US dollars each year, these defaults are hugely significant and will have a very negative impact on the economy of the nation.

The Chinese people, after decades of prosperity, could find such a financial insult a bitter pill to swallow.

Whilst many have probably been more than happy to accept the diktats of the CCP and the restrictions that the party imposes on their lives during the good times, will they be so willing and compliant if times get tough?

Hey, I know, how about a war to distract them from their woes?

I'm only half joking when I make this seemingly flippant comment. The idea of using a war to distract a digruntled public from their woes has been used many times before by manipulative governments and right now, it would likely be at least one of the options being mulled over by the CCP.

The annexation of Taiwan would fulfil the promise made by China to bring the island back under control of the mainland. More importantly however, it would give China total control over some very key assets, such as TMC's production facilities. One should not underestimate the value that this represents from both a financial, military and strategic perspective.

These days, winning a war is all about technological superiority and without a proper supply of cutting-edge semiconductors, the USA would definitely be at a disadvantage when it came to replenishing its stores of hi-tech weapons.

What's more, as I mentioned at the beginning of today's column, the USA is busy licking its wounds right now so it would be far less likely to become directly involved in any war between Taiwan and China. In fact, its treaty with Taiwan simply involves the provision of arms for self-defense purposes and does not oblige the USA to actually engage against any attacking force directly.

I doubt there will actually be any military conflict over Taiwan in the near future but one has to admit that if it were to happen, now might be the perfect time, from a number of different perspectives. Let's hope sane minds prevail but at the same time, let's not ascribe the human race more intelligence than it actually has.

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