TL;DR – Doing what we do best?
The armed forces of China is known as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA 人民解放军 ). With a strength of approximately 2,285,000 personnel, it is the world’s largest military force. So when its senior military official says that war with the US under Donald Trump is becoming a “practical reality”, it would definitely grab attention.
These remarks were published in a commentary on the PLA’s official website. It was also reported that the official called for military deployments in the tense South and East China Seas and for a missile defence system to guard the Korean peninsula, another regional hotspot. Apparently, these remarks communicated a view from inside the Central Military Commission (中央军委国防动员部), which has overall authority of China’s armed forces.
One notable detail is that this commentary was published on 20th January 2017. What’s so special about this date? That’s the inauguration date of the new POTUS, President Donald Trump. Sheer coincidence, you think?
The prospect that China and the USA would go to war is a scary one. These are the world’s two superpowers. Between them, they probably have enough firepower to obliterate the entire human race. If they were to go to war, it could jolly be the end of human civilisation as we know it.
Likelier doesn’t mean likely
Thankfully, war between China and the USA may not actually break out. Why? Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large, Mr Bilahari Kausikan, explained in a Facebook post:
“A US-China war has always been ‘a practical reality’ in other words a possibility or a contingency that both sides train and prepare for, as all militaries must. What else are militaries for? What this really means is that the PLA says war is now more probable. But that does not mean ‘likely’ and ‘more probable’ does not mean ‘certain’. In fact while the probability may have increased, war is still highly unlikely. The PLA knows this and so does the US. This is psyops aimed at third parties like ASEAN. Keep calm.”
In other words, it’s likelier that the remarks are meant to be a gentle reminder to countries in regions like ASEAN not to be too dependent on and close to the USA. Otherwise, China may use any disagreements with USA as excuses to mete out swift and severe retribution upon its neighbours. But that would be less of China picking a bone with USA.
Rather, it would be a (thinly-disguised) attempt to extend its control over the region.
What can we do about it?
In this game of superpowers, what can small countries do? Which side should they choose? Neither. Choosing a side would mean becoming either a puppet or a pawn in their game. This was the main point made in an article in Zaobao. The article also highlighted four things that a small country should do to survive:
- Find strength by banding together with other smaller countries
- Get our internal politics right, build up a strong defence force
- Develop a robust regional security framework, diligently advocate for peaceful resolution of international disputes, defend international law
- Never meddle in the internal affairs of other nations
These are things that Singapore has been doing.
But it’s not enough that Singapore does them. We need other small nations to do them too. Specifically, we need the rest of ASEAN to be committed to pursuing the same course of action. That would be our best bet to avoid ending up as collateral damage in the game between superpowers.