China and the United States will fight a war within the next five or 10 years over the South China Sea, and “there’s no doubt about that.” Those are the views of one of the most powerful and influential figures in Donald Trump’s White House, or as many media outlets like to call him nowadays, “the second most powerful man in the world,” Stephen K. Bannon.
Bannon, the former head of far-right news website Breitbart, which many accuse of spreading white supremacist ideals, is now chief strategist in the Trump administration who even reportedly personally spearheaded Trump’s so-called Muslim ban. The order placed a 90-day ban on entry to the country from six Islamic countries and indefinitely blocks Syrians from entering the U.S.
In addition to becoming the most influential policymaker on the President’s team, he even got Trump to appoint him to the National Security Council’s “principals committee,” granting him greater power than the Director of National Intelligence and even the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
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In March 2016, Bannon said during a radio show that the U.S. and China are headed toward war over the islands in the South China Sea, adding that he had “no doubt” about that. And now Bannon, who has previously vowed to “destroy the state” and confessed to wanting to “bring everything crashing down,” has all the power anyone in the world could wish for.
Why Bannon could be right about a U.S.-China war
Bannon’s words about the imminent war between China and the U.S. are worrisome not only because this man has been given unprecedented power in the White House and could be “the second most powerful man in the world,” but also because tensions between Washington and Beijing have reached their highest in the aftermath of Trump, who didn’t shy away from anti-Chinese rhetoric during his presidential campaign, becoming President and vowing to prevent China from seizing territories in the South China Sea on his fourth day in office.
Chinese state-run media previously warned that such actions from any country would be deemed an act of war. Over the past few years, China, the U.S., Japan (China’s biggest rival) and other countries have been fueling tensions in the South China Sea, claiming that part of the Pacific Ocean to be their territory.
But China has been one step ahead by building a series of artificial islands, on which it has even deployed military installations, military-length airstrips and anti-aircraft weapons. China’s provocative actions in the disputed territory have drawn ire from military experts around the world, but most notably, from Japan and the U.S., close allies that stay united in countering China’s growing appetites and influence in the region.
“We’re going to war in the South China Sea in five to 10 years, aren’t we?” Bannon said in March 2016. “There’s no doubt about that.”
The now-chief strategist in the Trump administration also accused Beijing of “making basically stationary aircraft carriers and putting missiles on those.”
“They come here to the United States in front of our face — and you understand how important face is — and say it’s an ancient territorial sea,” Bannon added.
Chinese military: war with U.S. is “practical reality”
One could argue that since Trump chose Bannon to be his top adviser, he was probably standing next to the Republican throughout his presidential campaign, whispering things into his ear. And Bannon could have been the architect of Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, like his controversial Muslim ban and the Mexico wall.
Beijing, for its part, has been unnerved by Trump’s anti-China rhetoric and his pledges to slap the Asian nation with huge tariffs on imported goods, something it said could trigger a trade war between the two biggest economies in the world. Just last week, the South China Morning Post cited a senior Chinese military official as saying that war with the U.S. is becoming a “practical reality” and urging his country to step up military deployments in the South China Sea to guard its territory.
A Chinese military official wrote on the website of the People’s Liberation Army that “a ‘war within the president’s term’ or ‘war breaking out tonight’ are not just slogans, they are becoming a practical reality.”
Bannon: I want to “destroy the state”
A month before Bannon’s warning of the imminent war between China and the U.S., he called China an “arrogant” nation that thinks “the Judeo-Christian west is on the retreat.” Bannon’s anti-China comments are coming under increased scrutiny due to his high level of influence over the most powerful person in the world.
Bannon previously expressed his desire to become like Vladimir Lenin, a very controversial figure in history who served as the leader of the Soviet Union. Bannon once reportedly told a Daily Beast reporter that Lenin “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
As worrisome and chilling as that may sound, Bannon now holds enough power to achieve his “goal.”
How likely is a U.S. vs. China war?
On January 23, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer sparked fury in Beijing after saying China could be blocked from accessing its artificial islands in the South China Sea. He stressed that the U.S. is going to “defend international territories from being taken over by one country.”
The Chinese media warned the Trump administration to be cautious in its threats to China, while many analysts have called the U.S. President’s anti-China approach too “extreme” and possibly “dangerous.” Many analysts interpreted Spicer’s words as Washington’s preparedness to counter China’s expanding provocative activities in the South China Sea with military action or a naval blockade, something that could trigger an armed confrontation with China and eventually even possibly lead to World War 3.
Shortly after the Trump administration vowed to defend “international territories,” which have rich fishing grounds and oil and gas deposits, the Chinese state media announced Beijing’s plans to allegedly “step up preparedness for possible military conflict with U.S.”