President- Elect Trump's tweets and his recent interview with Fox News on Taiwan has made the Chinese leadership not only anxious, nervy but increasingly uneasy. The Chinese leadership responded to Trump's rhetoric by a People's Daily Commentary [less serious than an editorial or a signed article] that for China the "one-China" principle was the foremost pre-condition for building formal ties with other countries. The People's Daily reiterated that "no country is willing to bargain over core national interests and that China is no exception.... that there was no room for compromise". On the other hand, the Chinese leaders also did not wish to jeopardize relations with Trump and therefore quickly sent State Councilor Yang Jiechi to meet with Trump officials, notably NSA-designate Flynn.
The question that therefore assumes importance is: Will Trump, after he assumes the US presidency in January 2017, persist with his present stance on Taiwan and Sino-US relations; or will he significantly modify his views? Should Trump persist, under what circumstances might this lead to a conflict situation arising between China and the US in the Asia-Pacific region? To answer this very important question, I put this across to Prof. John Garver, who is the Professor Emeritus at the Sam Nunn School of International Relations at Georgia Tech[Atlanta]. Prof John Garver is the author of eleven books and over a hundred articles dealing with China's foreign relations. His book entitled "The Protracted Contest: India-China Rivalry in the 20th Century" is considered a seminal work on Sino-Indian relations. Prof John Garver, is one of the most renowned scholars in the US on China and on Chinese foreign policy.
This is what Prof John Garver had to say:
I don't think this is very likely. Both Beijing and Washington
know a full scale war between them would be immensely costly,
dangerous and very difficult to "win." A war with the United States
would undermine China's currently highly successful "rise" (still
enjoying U.S. support). For the Beijing regime a perceived "defeat"
also carries the danger of regime collapse. Beijing might threaten war
over Taiwan, scaring a lot of people, but that is likely that this
will be psychological, not bloody warfare.
The most likely scenario would be some provocative action by North
Korea that triggered a South Korean response leading to renewal of
the war suspended since July 1953. If South Korea and the US
moved to preempt (via conventional air and missile strikes) North
Korea's nuclear capabilities, a war could result. Seoul and
Washington would do everything possible to secure Chinese acceptance
of North Korea's forceful de-nuclearization and possibly the
demise of the North Korean regime along with Korean unification
under Seoul's leadership. But if China faced the prospect of a
US-South Korean unification of the Korean peninsula under the
Republic of Korea framework (i.e. alliance with the United States
and the prospect of US troops on China's northeastern borders),
China might intervene militarily, primarily to have a strong voice in
the terms of the post-war settlement regarding the future of the
Korean peninsula. I suspect that Beijing and Washington would
maintain close contact during a second Korean war to avert
miscalculations as occurred in 1950.
Accidental collision of Japanese and Chinese airplanes or ships in
the East China Sea would lead to eruptions of anti-Japanese
nationalism in China which, in turn, could compel the regime to
"teach the dwarf pirates" (China's affectionate name for Japan) a
lesson." The U.S. would intervene to end this Sino-Japanese
confrontation, and I suspect that Beijing would be willing to go
along. Beijing understands that bloodshed could prompt Japan to
more quickly and more completely rearm --- to China's disadvantage.
Of course, Beijing could also calculate that bloodshed in the East
China Sea would mobilize Japan's pacifist forces and sentiment,
helping to thwart Shinzo Abe's efforts to make Japan a "normal"
(military) country. [Ends].
Quite clearly therefore the shrill words being exchanged between the US and China over Taiwan are more psychological in content than confrontational. As the People's Daily sermonized, the US needs to be "rational, respectful rather than impulsive". Is Trump listening?