In all cases, the potential for de-escalation once a crisis has been sparked will be undermined by the survival instincts of the CCP officials who initiated them, meaning that what was intended as limited foreign adventurism abroad could quickly snowball into something much more serious. If defeat, or even backing down, threatens a CCP contender (or his supporting faction) for a Politburo position, the likelihood that China will back down will thus be reduced, unless another contender sees this as an opportunity to irreparably destroy an opponent’s reputation while presenting retreat as something other than national humiliation.
For the region as a whole, the next six months are going to be a period of high risk and potential instability, especially if elite politics in the CCP turn nasty and President Xi becomes embattled. Thus, the political leadership in every country that is a potential target of Chinese adventurism at this important juncture will need to stand their ground while ensuring that their responses avoid sparking a larger conflagration due to China’s momentary inability to back down.
J. Michael Cole is a Taipei-based senior nonresident fellow with the China Policy Institute, University of Nottingham, UK, a research associate with the French Center for Research on Contemporary China and chief editor of Taiwan Sentinel.
Image: President of China Xi Jinping. Kremlin.ru