The Chinese military will continue to improve its capabilities and will become increasingly willing to use force in “more assertive and coercive ways,” a defense analyst told a conference in Washington.
“Territorial disputes will grow,” said Bryan McGrath, the founder of security firm Delex Consulting.
Asked to comment on the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) — which Taiwan, China and Japan all claim sovereignty over — McGrath said US diplomats were working behind the scenes “right now” to help solve the conflict.
Efforts were underway to mediate the problem and find a peaceful solution, he said, speaking at the Hudson Institute’s conference on US Naval Strategy in the Western Pacific.
However, if a military conflict breaks out, the US may “have no choice” but to join and honor its treaty with Japan, said McGrath, who is a retired US naval officer.
“China is becoming more assertive and more aggressive and the US cannot afford to be less engaged,” he said.
McGrath said that US diplomats would now be “leaning” on both China and Japan to calm things down.
Also at the conference was the head of strategic analysis company Global Strategies, Paul Giarra.
Giarra, who is also a retired US naval officer, said that Beijing was “completely unimpressed” with US actions and “certainly not deterred.”
“We need to change that equation because we are in a very difficult, taxing, threatening and perhaps civilizational competition with China,” he said.
Taiwan, South Korea and Japan were potentially the most significant US allies.
“Geographically, Taiwan plays a tremendously important role, but Taiwan has been minimized and undermined and demoralized since derecognition,” he said.
“China’s suborning of Taiwan is clearly very successful,” he added.
Whether the US could turn that around and “encourage” Taiwan to take on a more proactive role remained to be seen.
“Our friends should know that we are with them elbow to elbow and Chinese decisionmakers should be aware that it is not a good day to start a fight with us or with any of our friends,” McGrath said.
At the same time, it was important to remember that Taiwan and China were moving closer and closer to “rapprochement” every day, he said.
“Taiwan has come to see democracy as important to its culture and this rapprochement will not happen peacefully until it views China as more democratic than it is today,” McGrath said.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was taking “a solid middle path” and “doing a pretty good job,” McGrath added.
However, Giarra said: “China’s line is ‘let’s get along so that we can preserve peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.’”
“Well, the Taiwan Strait is neither peaceful nor stable,” he said.
He said China had huge numbers of missiles aimed at Taiwan and the military balance continued to shift in Beijing’s favor.
“If Taiwan wants to be in charge of its own destiny the leaders in Taipei and here in Washington are going to have to consider whether these are acceptable circumstances or not,” Giarra said.
He said the dispute in the East China Sea was important because “if China is permitted to assert its claims and continue its bad behavior, the game is over.”
The situation was of great danger right now because “the potential for escalation is so dramatically high,” Giarra said.