Before Steve Bannon had the ear of Donald Trump, he was the face of self-proclaimed “voice of the alt-right” Breitbart News. With that platform, one prediction he made was that World War 3 with China was just around the corner.
In March of 2016, on his SiriusXM program Breitbart News Daily, Steve discussed growing tensions in the South China Sea between the Asian superpower and the rest of the world. Bannon argued that a war was brewing, one that could take off within the decade.
“We’re going to war in the South China Sea in five to 10 years, aren’t we? There’s no doubt about that. They’re taking their sandbars and 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.”
The former head of Breitbart News’ comments have faced renewed scrutiny as he ascends to a higher position of power in President Donald Trump’s inner circle. Steve Bannon will now sit on the National Security Council in addition to being his chief strategist, a move that has been criticized by some as a move to consolidate power.
Several different geopolitical conflicts have been floated as the inciting incident in World War 3 speculation, among them Crimea and Syria. Yet, in the last few weeks, the South China Sea has risen to prominence as tensions between the U.S. and China have been openly discussed by world leaders. Liu Guoshun, a member of the national defense mobilization unit of China’s Central Military Commission, recently posted an article on the Chinese army’s website saying that the possibility of military conflict had become “more real,” reported South China Morning Post.
“‘A war within the president’s term’ or ‘war breaking out tonight’ are not just slogans, they are becoming a practical reality.”
The comments from the former director of Breitbart News also reflect remarks made by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said that the U.S. would consider blocking access to artificial islands that China has constructed in the South China Sea. Critics have claimed that Tillerson’s comments are directly tied to his time as Exxon CEO, part of a strategy to lock down oil reserves in the area.
Other analysts have challenged this view. Fabrizio Bozzato, an associate researcher specialized in international affairs at Tamkang University in Taiwan, told Voice of America that he believed the opposite to be true: Oil is being used as a red herring for sovereignty.
“The South China Sea is not Saudi Arabia, it’s not Iraq, it’s not the Middle East. The primary purpose of the claimants to be there is not because they want to access the oil and gas resources in the area. Developing hydrocarbon resources in the South China Sea would be way to mark the territory.”
Another commonly referenced point of contention between the U.S. and China is Taiwan, a country that the world’s most populous nation considers a rogue province. While Trump’s decision to take a phone call from President Tsai Ing-wen, as well as some Republican lawmakers meeting with her in Texas, raised eyebrows in China, the GOP has traditionally been less-than-staunch on the One China policy. Both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush also entered into snafus over the issue, neither of which resulted in World War 3. Siding with Taiwan alone is not a foolproof indication that such warfare in on the way.
Still, should the South China Sea become a focal point of relations between China and the U.S., Taiwan could become even more relevant to their respective agendas. It’s one of five other countries that also lay claim to the waters, including Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
Perhaps the most volatile of these countries is the Philippines, largely due to its mercurial president, Rodrigo Duterte, whose bombastic drug war has resulted in the deaths of at least 6,000 people since he took power less than a year ago. In terms of signs of world war, he disturbingly compared himself favorably with Hitler — though he did later walk back these statements, claiming media conspiracy. Where his loyalties would lie is unknown; Duterte has backed off of his South China Sea claims to warm up relations with China, but he has also praised Trump.
Of course, all of these issues come on the heels of aggressive economic talk from Trump during his campaign, including accusations that China is manipulating its currency to keep trade competitive. The world’s two largest trading powers could easily fall into a financial conflict, even if military intervention is never ordered by Washington or Beijing. While less damaging to human life, a trade war could further destabilize the region, ushering in an international conflict in the future. Peter Navarro, who will lead U.S. trade and industrial policy under Trump, released an entire feature documentary called Death by China that blames the country for domestic economic ills.
Although Steve Bannon has resigned from Breitbart News to focus on his new role in the U.S. government, his former news site has closely followed the international squabbles some fear could lead to World War 3. Still, it does not necessarily feature the drums of war with China that one might expect. Its most recent article on the South China Sea pointed out that “outside of the propaganda machine” other Chinese officials had spoken much more positively about the possibility of progress between the two countries.
[Featured Image by Andy Wong/Pool/Getty Images]