Australian Strategic Studies Institute executive director Peter Jennings warned last April that China’s intentions to gain territorial sovereignty over the maritime territory could unleash an all-out international conflict. In April, he said the following 10 months would be the most decisive since World War 2.
Mr Jennings said: “The global economy may be in hibernation, but geopolitics is thriving and sprinting towards a potential crisis.
“The core of the security problem is the Chinese Communist Party’s drive to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic strategically stronger in the Asia-Pacific than the US and its allies.”
Efforts by the United Nations to settle tensions by introducing a rules-based system have deteriorated as China focuses on gaining influence over territories on the East and South China Seas, and the Himalayas.
Mr Jennings argued this can be attributed to China’s President Xi Jinping symbolic power demonstrations.
He said: “Xi has shaped his premiership around preparing for two critical centenaries.
“The 100th anniversary of the founding of the CCP is on 21 July next year.
“At this time, Xi’s aspiration is for China to be ‘moderately well off’.
“By October 2049, the centenary of the party’s takeover of power, China is to be a ‘strong democratic, civilised, harmonious and modern socialist country’.”
In Taiwan, China has displayed military moves in order to exert its domination.
Mr Jennings said: “Beijing’s sabre-rattling over Taiwan is hardly new, but … we’ve seen a significant stepping up of Chinese military activity and an intense propaganda effort to isolate Taiwan and assert political primacy in the region.”
But he added that a “pre-emptive effort to coerce Taiwan would be immensely risky for Xi, but leaders under pressure do risky things, and Beijing has a long history of pushing the limits of regional tolerance – as with island-building in the South China Sea – to see what it can get away with.
“The challenge for Washington, Canberra and other allies and partners is to ensure that Xi calculates that this is a risk not worth taking.”
With the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims to the South China Sea, DWF’s Head of Transport, Jonathan Moss, said China should be apprehensive of the US getting involved in the dispute.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, Mr Moss said: “I think it would be US influence so if the US decides to debate, negotiate and adopt the mantel for the countries.
“If they become the parole for those particular countries, I think that will be more of an issue for China because at the moment we have got this discussion and debate between the two leaders about trade deals.
Mr Moss said further involvement from the US would get China’s attention.
He added: “I think there’s definitely a risk of all-out conflict.
“There have been pockets of conflict before; going back about 20 years there was a naval battle where three Chinese vessels were engaged with the Philippines Navy gunboats.
“That was in the Spratly Islands.
“There’s definitely the risk of isolated incidents and as we know, a string of isolated incidents can lead to major conflict.
“It should be on the radar as a danger.”