The Consequences of a War against China

Borrell calls for navy patrols in Taiwan Strait, Baerbock avoids saying “No” to war against China. Experts in Australia predict most severe consequences of a war for their own population.

BERLIN/CANBERRA/BEIJING (Own report) – The EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner, Josep Borrell, calls on European navies to patrol the Taiwan Strait, thus challenging once again China’s red lines. The Taiwan Strait is an “absolutely crucial area,” where “ freedom of navigation” must be guaranteed, Borrell alleged in an op-ed article over the weekend. When Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock was asked, whether she meant to announce a possible “German participation in a war against China” with her aggressive comments on Taiwan, she gave an evasive answer avoiding a “No.” In the meantime, the risk of war in East Asia has reached such a level that the public radio ABC in Australia – where the German Bundeswehr is regularly engaged in war exercises – has begun to openly discuss the concrete consequences of a war for the Australian population. Speaking to ABC radio, the military experts agreed that the West could not win such a war, but Australia would have to suffer tremendous losses, be plunged into poverty and even risk nuclear annihilation. They urgently call for preventing a war against China.

In the Service of US Interests

To explore the consequences for Australia of a possible war against China, the country’s public radio Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), recently questioned four experienced insiders, who, in the course of their careers have each held leading positions in the country’s political-military hierarchies, have been involved in sensitive military operations and have held the highest security clearances. These are Professor Hugh White, a former Deputy Secretary for Strategy and Intelligence in the Department of Defense, Admiral Chris Barrie, Chief of the Defense Force from 1998 to 2002, Allan Behm, a former head of the International Policy and Strategy Divisions of the Defense Department, Professor Clinton Fernandes, a former intelligence officer in the Australian military. All four are firmly convinced that, in case of a war against China, the United States would insist on Australia’s involvement and that the Canberra government would not balk. Behm explicitly decries the “fundamental strategic pathology” of the Australian establishment “to support the interests of the US at the expense of our own”.[1]

“Best Potential Outcome, a Stalemate”

All four of the experts interviewed by ABC were in agreement that the United States cannot win a war against China. This corresponds to the results of – not all – but the majority of the co-called war games held in the USA, wherein think tanks, government officials, and the military have thoroughly analyzed war scenarios down to the smallest detail.[2] The experts point out that both the USA and China have enormous high-tech military apparatuses. Whereas, the US military, contrary to its Chinese counterpart, has extensive combat experience, Chinese forces can use their advantage of having to fight on or near their own territory, while US troops must manage huge supply lines stretched across the Pacific. If it should come to a war of attrition, like in Ukraine, China can rely on its significantly larger military forces. White says, he sees “no credible chance that America could win a war with China over Taiwan.” Behm, on the other hand, differentiates, saying that were the US and China to go to war over the next five to 10 years the best potential outcome for the US is a stalemate, while, considering the rate at which Chinese forces are modernizing, “a Chinese victory over the US is the more likely outcome beyond 2035.”

Dramatic Losses

When it comes to the specific war scenarios, the experts disagree. Whereas White assumes that an armed conflict between the USA and China would mainly take place at sea, Fernandes expects, it is more likely that China could block Taiwan, and what would then develop, would depend on whether the United States would seek to end the blockade militarily. On the other hand, they agree that a US war against the People’s Republic of China, with Australian involvement, would lead to enormous loss of human life and other dramatic damage. Fernandes points out that, already the loss of a single frigate means the death of 170 people. White is convinced that such a war “would swiftly exceed the toll in casualties suffered in Vietnam and Korea.” Barrie – who, as a former Chief of the Defense Force, is especially familiar with the consequences of war – urgently warns that war against China would have an impact on all Australians, not least of all economically. Besides the loss of human life, it is likely “to impoverish us all,” in the worst case, it may even kill most of us if it goes nuclear”.

“Avert a War by all Means”

None of the four Australian experts hint at approval of a possible war with China. White categorically states the he thinks it would be “a mistake” to go to war over Taiwan. Barrie considers that “rhetoric about the international rules-based order” that Beijing fails to sign up to all its provisions, seems to be “lecturing and hectoring” rather than working assiduously on overcoming differences of perspective, especially since “even in Australia, governments have sometimes overlooked the provisions of the rules-based order.” This is true for the West in general. “Australia should use all the means at its disposal to avert a war with China,” demands the former -Chief of the Australian Defense Force. Behm, on the other hand, criticizes the fact that Australia is never reluctant to support and “participate in American adventurism.” Korea was “an unnecessary war,” as were the conflicts in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Vietnam and Iraq were illegal wars. In light of the fact that Taiwan’s affiliation with China is internationally recognized, admonishes Behm, for Australia to support Taiwan against China – regardless of how one feels about China – would be similar to Australia’s supporting “Catalonia against the Castilians.”

China’s Red Lines

The question of what consequences a war with China would have for Germany is just as concrete as it is for Australia. The Bundeswehr has begun to regularly participate in combat exercises in the Asia-Pacific Realm, particularly in Australia. These maneuvers are consistently targeting China. ( reported.[3]) Over the weekend, the EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Josep Borrell suggested that the navies of the EU countries “patrol the Taiwan Strait in the future,” in other words, to even more energetically provoke the People’s Republic than had been done already in the past.[4] A few weeks ago, German Minister of Defense, Boris Pistorius, did not say whether Berlin would be dispatching warships to the strait between Mainland China and Taiwan in the coming year.[5] The stakes are known: China’s ambassador to Germany, Wu Ken, had reiterated in January, “in the question of Taiwan” there are “Chinese red lines.”[6] Crossing these lines may lead directly into a major war. Last week, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock answered evasively, avoiding an unambiguous “No” to a question posed by the Parliamentarian Sevim Dagdelen (Die Linke), as to whether the minister had intended to announce “German participation in a war against China,” with her statements concerning Taiwan.[7] A serious debate about the concrete losses to be expected for the Bundeswehr or even for the German population in a war waged by the West against China has yet to be launched.


[1] For this quote and the following see: John Lyons: What would war with China look like for Australia? Part 1. 19.02.2023 (für Hugh White und Chris Barrie). John Lyons: What would war with China look like for Australia? Part 2. 20.02.2023 (für Allan Behm und Clinton Fernandes).

[2] See also The World’s Center of Gravity.

[3] See also Mit der Luftwaffe an den Pazifik and German Army at the Pacific.

[4] Josep Borrell, chef de la diplomatie européenne : « Un regard froid sur la Chine ». 22.04.2023.

[5] Eckart Lohse, Patrick Welter: Der Weg ist das Ziel. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 20.03.2023.

[6] Dana Heide, Thomas Sigmund: Chinas Botschafter in Berlin: „Mentalität des Kalten Krieges”. 09.01.2023.

[7] Kein Nein von Baerbock zu einem Krieg gegen China. 20.04.2023.