On the Edge of World War
Air Chief Marshal Masihuzzaman Serniabat (Retd.)
The world is witnessing an avalanche of war drum beating along with the specter of a nuclear fallout. The ongoing war in Ukraine goes on unabated with possible world-wide famine and sinking into a great depression. The sanctions and counter sanctions are marginalizing the poorer countries while richer countries could continue buying Russian gas. The result ~ Stagflation, that is economic slowdown and inflation making the life for the poor even harder. As if it is not enough, COVID, UKRAINE WAR and now possibility of direct confrontation with China and US over the question of TAIWAN. It is in fact an issue long maintained in a status quo by resolution 2758 of the UN when UN admitted PRC and recognised China as UN member. Ban ki Moon further reinforced the one China, although US stood on Strategic Ambiguity while many a US President including NIXON tacitly acceded to one China Policy (Nixon recognized Taiwan as part of China, while the Chinese agreed to pursue a peaceful settlement in the Cross-Strait dispute with the ROC, Wikipedia) keeping the way for peaceful resolution on course for unification ( if the people wishes). However, today the 17th of August North Korea fired/tested missiles and the US tested ballistic missile firing. Tensions are mounting. After Nancy Pelosi, some other members of the legislature are visiting Taipei much to the annoyance of Beijing who again initiated military exercises in the Strait.
The sigh of some relief could be the flow of food grains from Ukraine restarted by the effort of Turkey, UN. The effort made by Turkey is however eyed with suspicion as Erdogan met Putin and Ayatollah. Some years back (1995-96) also China did show off military might in and around the renegade Island by firing missiles into the Strait. This time with clear might of the aircraft carrier and air power with strength and more qualitative edge. USA on the other hand feels more for the defense of its stature and probably the people in the Island. Who takes it as business as usual. One may understand it by listening to the reaction of the common man in the street in Taiwan.
NATO enlargement is going on - Sweden and Finland on the verge of becoming members. NATO carefully refrained from getting directly entangled but the rhetoric is on and possibility of NATO taking the last moment credit of winning remains. On the other hand, the Russian rouble did not fall as anticipated, rather appreciated. The EU could not but keep buying Russian fuel. (If we buy, we are given a red eye???!!!!). The world is so dependent on each other. To put the perspective in one canvas, let’s understand the historical lessons and lessons not learned. After centuries of fighting, France, Germany and some others are now friends, EU. The Japanese Air Chief pays tribute to the martyrs off Pearl Harbour. Recent times, the withdrawal of US and NATO from Afghanistan and the look back talks of erstwhile assistant secretary general of NATO John Manza in the Atlantic Council states that NATO should not have been there in the first place. (Afghanistan was never in the vital interest of the United States or any NATO ally according to Manza). History tells us that we fought many times unnecessarily.
China has had a great Philosopher, Sun Zi. And his ideas make the mindset of the Chinese leaders. They take time on their side. They take a goal to the next generation and to reach the goal, they believe to wait it out. Being in China for one year attending the National Defence University and also in the USA in APCSS ( Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies) and in the Naval Post Graduate School, the mindset of all comes to my vision in clear. There is an attitude of preempting in the west to neutralize real or perceived threats. On the contrary, the Chinese believe that they are defensive and only trying to protect what is theirs. They would say that there could be many ways of life and governance and they believe that they listen to the minority in a different form of democracy. Open market economy is vigorously pursued by them while keeping market forces free by facilitating an unhindered and unobstructed supply chain. So, is the War in the offing?
The Chinese told us that they think that Taiwanese people are their emotional patriots/ brothers. They are the freedom fighters, Kuomintang (KMT) force who fought against the Japanese Occupation force during the WW-II. After the Chinese Civil war, China’s Nationalist Party led by Chiang kei shek (the party ruled the country from 1927 to 1949) was defeated by Mao Zedong, chairman of the Chinese Communist party and finally driven out to Taiwan. So, they are the same people. It is very unlikely that China will apply military force (but Russia did) on Taiwan. Rather China will wait it out.
China considers Taiwan as its renegade province with a different kind of governance. (Something like one China with many systems). And eventually there will be integration. People to people contact is extensive across the strait and bulk of mutually dependent trade is heavy. The Taiwanese chip is essential for Chinese computers. And thus trade goes on unabated. In XIAMEN I have seen Taiwanese people come and go without any need of a passport. Families live on both sides without any fear.
But, a egocentric feeling seems to be working in all the show offs. Russia cannot withdraw without some gains, China cannot allow the US to keep doing things unchallenged. The problem is with us, the countries of the third world who suffer in between.
Is the US going to get involved directly if China lands on the Island? Strategic ambiguity. What are the considerations? Again the mindset of the young generation of Taiwanese comes to the forefront. They appear to be nonchalant to the US, and to the Chinese, they appear to be increasingly inclined towards the Western form of Democracy. And moreover, Xi needs to achieve in the near future. With the economy shrinking because of the zero COVID Policy and unemployment rising whereas Taiwanese economy is doing 3 plus growth, a facesaving is needed. All these could lead to disaster, slightest miscalculation in the field and escalation can spiral up uncontrolled. The tip off could be a long standstill in the Russia Ukraine War. and the fire from global warming taking a great toll in lives. US South Korea exercise instigates North Korea to respond in kind. All these are beating drums for what? Maybe this is the inspiration for all to arm themselves. And the gainer is the arms seller. Ironically, the oil embargo has actually increased the revenue earnings of the Russians and the rouble is flying higher. The Dollar empire is also going high at the cost of the fiat currency of smaller nations. The fear of depression could induce an austerity drive in the EU and elsewhere, resulting in closure of factories in the third world and ending in the poor becoming poorer. The only hope is that sanity could prevail among the leaders of the world and immediate steps would be taken to stop the conflict-stricken world.
What should we be doing?
Our Honorable Prime Minister has already given us certain directives and asked all government machinery to reduce expenditure. Firstly, we should concentrate and go all out in food production and supporting the farmers through subsidies directly or indirectly so that no land remains uncultivated. It should be done in a planned manner with the help of technology and AI. Secondly, we should invest in other countries where we have UN missions, in cultivation and transfer of knowhow on cultivation. Third, we should apply diplomatic skills to negotiate and maneuver for the greater interest of humanity, peace and protection of Nature. Fourthly, we should go into more diversification of production using our capacity in electricity production once fuel is made available and produce value-added AI directed finished goods. WE may take on having factories coming in through FDI as there would be relocation of many industries. One of the things we need is Supercomputers and big DATA centers to host CLOUD business. More business could be sought through the BLOCKCHAIN method so that we go into real productive endeavors and not into speculative stock markets.
Air Chief Marshall Masihuzzaman Serniabat ( Retired), former Chief of Air Staff of Bangladesh Air Force (2018-2021).