A US-Taiwan free-trade deal and a second battlefield on EU border after Ukraine-Russia war: Chinese data miners on how Year of the Tiger could pan out

  • More US sanctions on Chinese tech and a widening of the Ukraine crisis to Belarus and Poland are among scenarios foreseen by researchers at a Beijing university
  • The team came to their conclusions after sifting through 70 million entries in a global database of events and macroeconomic data. Some of their findings are startling

A free-trade deal between the United States and Taiwan, expanded US sanctions on Chinese tech companies and a “second battlefield” opening up on the Belarus-Poland border after a Russia-Ukraine conflict.

These are some of the startling scenarios put forward by a crack team of Chinese researchers that spent months mining media data bases to predict what would be the 10 most significant conflicts and crises in the year ahead.

After weeks monitoring the political situation in flashpoint countries, the team of a dozen graduate researchers from Beijing Normal University, led by Professor Gao Jianbo, sifted through 70 million entries and downloaded 30GB of data from the Global Database of Events, Language and Tone Macroeconomic Data before coming to their conclusions.

Not surprisingly, US-China relations featured heavily in the scenarios considered by Gao’s team, who hope eventually to compete with research bodies such as the International Crisis Group. “The US does not want to be overtaken by China,” said Gao, who said Washington would use ideological differences to unite Western countries in trying to curb Beijing’s rise.

However, the research also looked at problems from Afghanistan to the African continent, as well as what might happen to military regimes that had seized power recently in Sudan, Mali and Myanmar – where Gao said the junta was “unlikely … to resort to further bloodshed, but neither will it restore democracy”.

Here are the 10 scenarios analysed by Gao’s team.

US-China relations

Gao’s team foresaw no strong possibility of a head-on conflict in the year ahead, however, it said the US would continue to regard China as its biggest challenger and attempt to politicise all of Beijing’s actions.

Apart from strengthening ties with its allies in jointly dealing with China, Washington would expand sanctions on Chinese hi-tech companies and even sign a free-trade agreement with Taiwan, the team predicted.

They said in responding to Washington’s provocations, China was likely to promote the message that even if it had a similar political system to the US, Washington would want to curb Beijing’s development. “Therefore, the dispute is not about being the first or the second power”, but about the US wanting “to maintain absolute hegemony”, the researchers said.

Beijing should build a strong multidisciplinary team consisting of natural scientists, engineers, and social scientists that could predict possible US strategies and actions, as well as curb the spread of misinformation, they said.

An armed serviceman walks along a trench on territory controlled by pro-Russian militants on the frontline with Ukrainian government forces near Spartak village in the Yasynuvata district of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine


Even though a Russia-Ukraine conflict appeared imminent, Moscow “actually wants to find a means to avoid the war”, Gao’s team said. This meant war could still be avoided if the US and Nato, or the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, pledged not to expand eastward through Ukraine in the near future.

“Otherwise, a war is bound to happen,” the researchers concluded, as security was Russia’s top priority. This also explained why it had recently sent troops to suppress last month’s unrest in Kazakhstan’s capital Almaty.

Moscow is also concerned that Kyiv would increasingly move into the Western orbit, as Ukraine has made Nato membership one of its strategic foreign and security policy objectives.


The border crisis between Belarus and Poland (which is part of the European Union or EU) was seen by Gao’s team as both a migration crisis and a product of political manoeuvring, as the conflict escalated soon after Alexander Lukashenko’s sixth re-election in Belarus in 2020. His re-election came after the EU and Western countries accused his government of violating the spirit of democracy.

The influx to the border area of several tens of thousands of immigrants, primarily from Iraqi Kurdistan, has resulted in a sharp increase in political instability. Gao’s team expected the situation to worsen and even become “the second battlefield” if war broke out between Russia and Ukraine.

Given rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine, the increasing military cooperation and joint exercises between Belarus and Russia should be closely monitored, the team said.

A man passes a mural of the Iranian national flag in Tehran


While the US has agreed to resume talks on the Iran nuclear deal abandoned by former president Donald Trump in 2018, negotiations have become stuck on Tehran’s demands for compensation from Washington and guarantees that future US governments will honour the deal.

Gao’s team thought an agreement that could fully satisfy both parties was unlikely to emerge as Washington was keen to get out of its entanglement in Iran and the Middle East to focus on other international issues.

The growing involvement of Israel in Iranian affairs – including its defence forces’ request for more money to buy weapons to counter Tehran, and the emergence of a would-be timetable for an Israeli attack on Iran – were developments that needed to be closely watched, Gao’s team said.


This year, the Syrian government will be preoccupied by post-war reconstruction, especially in dealing with a worsening humanitarian crisis. Some 64 per cent of the country’s land is now under the control of the government of Bashar al-Assad.

While Gao’s team expected the 11-year old war to come to an end, it pointed out the current ceasefire had failed to prevent confrontations and small-scale conflicts such as air strikes and artillery shelling between warring factions. Remnants of the Islamic State terror group continue to launch attacks against government forces and even civilians.

However, casualties as a result of extremism have declined, a sign that extremist groups have been cut down to size by Russian and Israeli air strikes.

Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces in the northeastern city of Hasakeh.

Palestinian-Israeli conflict

Even though US President Joe Biden had committed to a “two-state solution”, it was unclear this could fundamentally address the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Gao’s team said.

They expect the tussle for influence between the Palestinian National Liberation Movement (Fatah) and the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) to continue to hinder the peace process and damage Palestinians’ international image.

Gao suggested a best-case scenario was restraint on the part of the overwhelmingly dominant Israeli government forces in inflicting casualties on the Palestinians.


The Yemeni civil war, in which Houthi rebels have been fighting a Saudi-backed government since 2014, was likely to remain in a stalemate with no ending in sight, according to Gao’s team. Even if the Houthis were defeated, infighting between the various anti-Houthi factions was likely to continue.

The team said the country’s humanitarian crisis needed to be watched closely due to the worsening famine and inadequate food aid. Over 20 million people, or 70 per cent of Yemen’s population, require assistance due to malnutrition and displacement.

Apart from seeking greater autonomy for Houthi-majority regions in the country, Houthis’ demands include action on economic underdevelopment and political marginalisation.

Supporters of Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi

Coup countries

In Myanmar, although there have been frequent civilian protests and resistance by armed groups, the efforts of the National Unity Government to overthrow the military regime that seized power last February were unlikely to succeed, according to Gao’s team.

Over in Sudan, conflicts between the people and the military which seized power in October were seen as likely to intensify.

In Mali, apart from clashing with demonstrators, coup leaders would also be threatened by a large number of returning African militants who had been fighting with Islamic State.


Plagued by the Covid-19 pandemic, extreme weather and economic downturns, the continent was seen as likely to experience social unrest and political tensions that will exacerbate insecurity, violence, and internal displacement.

The three countries to keep close tabs on were Nigeria, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gao’s team said.

Abuja faces an unprecedented security crisis, with violence and crime rising across the country, while the ongoing civil war in Addis Ababa has resulted in heavy casualties and a humanitarian catastrophe. In Kinshasa, although local authorities are combating rebel armed forces, the country’s security situation remains “very serious”.

A child in Afghanistan


After the US withdrawal and the Taliban’s takeover of power last year, the country has become increasingly stable, largely due to the suppression of Islamic terrorists in the country.

To resolve the country’s humanitarian crisis, the international community and especially Western countries led by the US must provide immediate assistance to Afghanistan and unfreeze almost US$2 billion dollars worth of Afghan assets in the West, Gao’s team argued. This would allow the war-torn country to rebuild its economy and effectively combat terrorism.

Any delay would lead to the deaths of thousands or even millions of people, which would be tantamount to a large-scale war or even genocide, the team warned.

Author: Maria Siow, SCMP

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