War that was once unthinkable is now improbable — but not impossible. Since the US declared China a "strategic competitor" in 2017, tension has heightened. America and China have already fought a trade war; they are waging war in cyberspace and there are red lines that could trigger a full-blown confrontation.
China's Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times last year warned the US not to "play with fire". The editorial cautioned America to stay out of China's "core interests". Those core interests are the disputed islands of the South China Sea — now claimed and militarised by China — and Taiwan. President Xi has committed himself to reuniting the island with the China Mainland by force if necessary. Xi cannot back down and the US cannot be made to look weak lest it relinquish its regional dominance. As the Chinese say: two tigers cannot live on the same mountain.