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Uncertainty in the South China Sea

John Allen
August 08, 2022

In summer 2022, tension is rising between the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan, and experts seem uncertain where that tension will lead. Beijing has long claimed that Taiwan is an integral part of the Chinese nation; younger Taiwanese increasingly feel that theirs is a separate country. Taiwan’s role in global trade — the island is a leading provider of semiconductors and computer hardware — means that a conflict there could affect the economies of many countries. On the August 9, 2022, episode of The UW Now Livestream, UW–Madison political science professor Jon Pevehouse will discuss the situation in the South China Sea and share insights about what might happen next.

My Chief Areas of Research Include:

I study international relations, and two of the main areas that I study are international trade and the politics behind international trade, both its causes and consequences. Also, I’ve done a general set of studies on international conflicts and regional conflicts.

Tonight on The UW Now I’ll discuss:

The focus is going to be on the short-term and long-term consequences of the political tensions between China and Taiwan. One of the points I want to make is that, especially in the U.S. scholarly community and think-tank community, there’s almost no consensus. I think it is the most divided issue among people who study that region. I can show you 10 eminently qualified folks who say China’s invasion is imminent, and 10 who say China will never invade. I think two things make it very complicated. One is the role of trade and economic interdependence between these two countries — in many ways they rely on each other. That’s why there are naysayers who say there will never be conflict. On the flip side, you have nationalistic Chinese ideology. China is held together, in my view, largely by a strong sense of nationalism. One of the breaks in the nationalism is Taiwan. It’s a thorn in the side of the Chinese Communist Party, and they’d love to have that thorn removed. The people who say war's inevitable look at that set of factors.

The One Thing I Want Viewers to Remember Is:

I’ve been doing this 20-plus years, and I’ve never seen experts so greatly divided on what the future holds. That one takeaway point is just uncertainty: anytime you hear someone talking about the inevitability of one path or another, I don’t think there’s any consensus on anything out there.

To Get Smart Fast, Read:

The Straits Times and the British Broadcasting Corporation. There are a number of English-language newspapers in the region, some of which are out of Singapore. And Taiwan has English-language newspapers. As long as you know you’re getting particular views, it is interesting to see what local sources are saying. The BBC has a little less on Asian politics, but they’re pretty good.

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