U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center hosts panel discussion on tensions in Indo-Pacific region

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U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center Commander Maj. Gen. John Klein moderated a panel discussion with three of America’s leading subject matter experts on the current state of affairs in the Indo-Pacific region at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, Feb. 7, 2024.

Subject matter experts included Dr. Brendan Mulvaney, director of the China Aerospace Studies Institute at National Defense University, Professor Raul “Pete” Pedrozo, Howard S. Levie chair of the Law of Armed Conflict and professor of International Law at the U.S. Naval War College, and Dr. Robert Spalding, USAF Brig. Gen. (Ret) and senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

During the day-long discussion titled “China as America’s Pacing Challenge: What You Need to Know,” military members, families, and community leaders were invited to not only observe, but also join the discussion via a question-and-answer session during the event. “Events like this are incredibly important because all Americans should be aware of the current situation and the potential for sudden change in the Indo-Pacific region,” Klein said.

The panelists were in unanimous agreement with Klein’s sentiment.

“I don’t believe this issue is given sufficient attention, I think most believe it to be highly unlikely,” said Spalding. “However, people also believed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was highly unlikely before it occurred. This is a common theme in history. Issues like this rarely receive the attention they deserve until a crisis erupts.”

The relative proximity of numerous nations with competing interests, values, and visions for the future of the region compounds the already existing potential for future conflict.

“Unlike other areas of the world, the Indo-Pacific is the only place we are likely to see any of the major powers of the world come into direct conflict,” said Mulvaney. “Although proxy wars will likely continue in the Middle East and in Europe, we are unlikely to see the major powers directly engage one another. In the Indo-Pacific, we have multiple flash points between and among multiple nuclear powers and their allies. Taiwan usually takes center stage as the most likely spark for major conflict, but the Senkakus, the South China Sea, and indeed the active border conflict with India, all hold the possibility of drawing in multiple nations into direct kinetic conflict.”

The experts unanimously agreed that any conflict in the region could take a terrible human toll, but also reminded those in attendance of the negative global economic impact that could be sustained as well.

“Although I do not believe a potential cross-strait conflict will initially spawn into a broader global conflict, it could result in a drop in global economic output of nearly $3 trillion, thus having a devastating effect on the world economy,” said Pedrozo. “The Taiwan Strait is the busiest waterway in the world. Over 250 ships transit the strait every day, including 50 percent of the global container fleet and 88 percent of the world’s largest ships by tonnage. This includes over one million barrels of oil each day. When China conducted its large-scale military exercises off of Taiwan in response to Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei in August 2022, the number of ships operating in the strait decreased from 250 per day to 15-20.”

“The Department of the Air Force is identifying and constantly adapting to ensure our success in a world that continues to see this unprecedented change,” Klein adds. “Stability in the Indo-Pacific is critically important.”