BY PATRICK KNOX, thesun.co.uk
The stage is set for a major conflict igniting in the hotly disputed maritime region which policy makers and observers fear may end up spiralling out of control
WAR between the US and Chinese forces in the South China Sea could break out in 2019, leading experts fear.
Concerns are mounting the two superpowers could become embroiled in a terrifying conflict in the directly contested region which could kill thousands of people.
Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst in defence strategy and capability at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra, told Sun Online: “Expect greater tension in the South China Sea.
“China won’t back down – nor will the US.
“The South China Sea will remain a key flashpoint between China and the US, who are now engaged in an extended period of strategic competition.”
Mr Davis added that Trump administration would be unlikely to back off in the face of Chinese pressure.
Gregory Poling, an Asia and maritime law expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Al Jazeera in October: “There’s a whole basket of issues that could lead to a US-China conflict.
“The South China Sea is the thorniest. It gets right at the heart of US primacy in the region, the international order that Washington built up since World War II and China’s willingness to bully neighbours and challenge that rules-based order.”
If war were to break out between these two countries who have nuclear capabilities the consequences would be devastating to both regions.
Dr Brendan Taylor, Associate Professor at ANU Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, argues Asia is at a dangerous crossroads and could sleepwalk into a global war like in World War One.
In his new book The Four Flashpoints: How Asia Goes to War, the former diplomat warns: “The region is in the throes of a ‘crisis slide’.
“A major war in the Asia-Pacific is more likely than most people to assume.
“The outcome of any such conflict remains to be seen, but it will likely shape the world in ways both unimaginable and terrifying.”
Observers at the Council on Foreign Relations’ Centre for Preventive Action have ranked the South China Sea as a hotspot as Beijing and Washington refuse to back down over who controls the oil and gas rich region.
Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei argue they own parts of the sea — and the United States is prepared to back them with military force.
It is feared a showdown is on the cards which could spiral out of control.
Maochum Yu, a history professor at the US Naval Academy in Maryland, said confrontation in the region is all but “inevitable”.
He told Foreign Policy: “China’s geopolitical and geostrategic priority is to revise or change the existing international order that has been based upon a complex system of rules, laws and customs that govern various global commons including the South China Sea.
“Revisionism brings unavoidable confrontation.”
But Beijing is bent on a takeover and has built seven artificial islands in the disputed area and blatantly made the reasons behind this clear.
Satellite images clearly show they are equipped with air bases and an array of military equipment in a bid to project total power in the contested sea.
Earlier this month Chinese Air Force colonel Dai X made clear his country’s position.
The Global Times quoted the colonel warning: “If the US warships break into Chinese waters again, I suggest that two warships should be sent: one to stop it, and another one to ram it.
“In our territorial waters, we won’t allow US warships to create disturbance.”
Meanwhile the Pentagon is ramping up its military muscle by expanding its Lombrum naval base which is strategically located at Manus in Papua New Guinea.
Regional powers and US allies such as Indonesia are also arming themselves to the teeth.
But other experts believe Taiwan could be the flash-point
The island broke away from mainland China in 1949 when the Communists seized power after winning a long civil war.
Peter Mattis, a former CIA analyst and Fellow in the China Program at The Jamestown Foundation, believes Chinese president Xi Jinping could try to boost his domestic image as a leader in the coming years by reclaiming the island nation.
Speaking to news.com.au in September, he characterised Taiwan as the greatest immediate challenge the world currently faces with regards to the threat of rising China — even more so than growing tensions in the East and South China Seas.