In my July 4 op-ed for the Daily Herald, I introduced the concept of “backyard wars” as limited but violent expressions of ongoing rivalries between great powers. I observed that “often, and increasingly in the present era, these conflicts are fought through proxies armed and otherwise supported by rival great powers.”
Currently, what amounts to a cold war between the U.S. and China is fast heating up and approaching the stage where it too will find expression in regional backyard wars. This situation is extremely worrisome, not only because of the terrible suffering backyard wars inflict on the peoples who fight them and nations where they are fought, but also for what they portend. The problem with backyard wars is that they often don’t stay confined to their back yards: there is a tendency for them to escalate, especially when the stakes for the great powers involved are high. And the stakes for the U.S. and China are very high indeed, being nothing less than global dominance.
Beijing has assigned Southeast Asia a critical role in the transshipment of Middle Eastern oil to China, to that end it is aggressively expanding its footprint throughout the region. In Burma, this process of expansion has taken the form of building Indian Ocean port facilities for receiving China-flagged tankers laden with crude extracted from Middle Eastern oil fields. It also entails building port refineries for processing the crude, and pipelines for moving the refined petroleum overland from the ports to China. In undertaking these projects, the Chinese have demonstrated that they will allow no one to stand between them and the achievement of their geostrategic goals. For China the ends justify the means, which include the elimination of undesirable minority groups from their area of operations.
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