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Taiwan could spark a global conflict

Chris Stowers/AFP/Getty Images

After the upheaval caused by Covid, this may be “no time to frighten the horses” by flagging another source of peril, says Max Hastings in Bloomberg. But there’s an imminent risk of armed conflict between the US and China over “the most dangerous flashpoint in the world”, Taiwan, according to US think tank the Council on Foreign Relations. Such a conflict would have “horrendous global consequences”. Even if shots aren’t fired, tensions could easily provoke a substantial cyberattack. A hacking-induced blackout affecting just 15 US states could cause $1 trillion worth of damage, not to mention countless deaths because of disruption to healthcare, traffic and industry.

Beijing claims Taiwan is a natural part of greater China. To the US it’s a crucial liberal democracy and a tech powerhouse: its microchip manufacturing is “a decade ahead” of China’s. President Xi’s record shows that if Taiwan becomes subject to Beijing, “it will be governed as cruelly as the rest of China’s 1.4 billion people”. And the terrible treatment of the Uighurs shows how little it cares about international abuse. If the US wants to avoid a fight, it needs to make the price of invading Taiwan “too high to be acceptable”. That means building up its “run-down” defences into a credible deterrent. America’s profound political divisions make a co-ordinated response “hard, perhaps impossible” to imagine. The world will be fortunate if it escapes an “unspeakably ugly” Taiwan showdown.