It seems to me, the utilitarian philosophy of Mo Ti has one facet that is applicable today, his argument… “Why fight over developed land, when there is so much undeveloped land that can be brought under cultivation, far cheaper than conquering a city?” The difference between cultivation and being accounted for is important here. The world today is all accounted for, not one acre is unaccounted for, even the great deserts and jungles are quantified and mapped. There is no unaccounted for land left on the planet, in terms of national boundaries, within those boundaries there is an enormous amount of uncultivated land, but none of it is unaccounted for. Where then is the unaccounted for land that can be brought under cultivation? In short, the “land” in space is unending. There are unlimited resources that can be exploited in space from asteroids like 16 Psyche, the Moon and even potentially habitable Trappist 1. So to paraphrase Mo Ti, why spend trillions of dollars to pulverize the world into a radioactive Hell, when there is so much unaccounted for and uncultivated land available?
The desire for more land, ideally already cultivated land, is what has driven most empires to attack their neighbors, rather than bring wild land within their boundaries under cultivation. The land already cultivated is usually better, enlargement by conquest brings notoriety, increase of one’s lands available for cultivation and increases the aggregate productive potential of the property under one’s control. Today however, with the national boundaries set, any war of conquest is seen the planet over for just what it is, war being the violent means of political ends, and political action always having a public relations aspect, the inevitable public revulsion at conquest must be factored in. That is potentially the only thing stopping China from enlarging it’s empire to include Korea, Taiwan, The Philippines, Vietnam, Nepal, Cambodia, Myanmar, India and any other nation that boarders China. Those are all lands that are under cultivation and accounted for.
The “land” unaccounted for and uncultivated in space is very expensive to bring under cultivation. Estimates of a hundred billion dollars to bring a permanent Moon base online have been bandied about. So in the capitalist mindset, strictly pragmatic, one could even say utilitarian way of thinking, we weigh the benefits against the costs. In the benefits column of China’s attacking say, Taiwan, the gain would be a bit less than fourteen thousand square miles of property. The productive capacity would be utterly destroyed unless neutron bombs were used, which would still utterly devastate the productive capacity, since the population would have to be replaced, the replacements would have to acclimate themselves to the mean of production they have stolen. Plus the world reaction to the wholesale genocide by neutron bombs would vastly increase the likelihood of a world military reaction.
The cost in destroyed military equipment would be pretty easy to quantify, afterwards, very difficult before. A bad turn of events in a sea invasion, and that is what would have to take place, would be more difficult than the Normandy invasion due to the terrain, would drive up casualties drastically, and a good turn of events is what it would take to meet the casualty expectations. Considering just material the cost would be in the tens of billions, but the lost productivity of the men that would be lost is incalculable. Moreover, Taiwan would almost certainly retaliate in some way. The cost of that retaliation has to be considered as well. Counting in the cost of replacing the destroyed infrastructure as well as war material, loss of productive capacity due to infrastructure loss, not counting the potential world reaction could drive the cost up astronomically, that fourteen thousand square miles of ordinance tilled wasteland, would cost China well over one hundred billion dollars, if everything goes well.
The cost of setting up a manned moon base at the Moon’s south pole would cost the Chinese dramatically less than a NASA mission. Potentially an order of magnitude less for a variety of reasons too many to list. If it Cost China ten percent of that hundred billion, ten billion, the total cost in money would be the same, however, the gain would be exponentially greater. Multiply that fourteen thousand square miles by a double digit number for land on the Moon that is available, plus the first one at the South Pole gets a monopoly one the only know available water on the Moon, plus the technological gain that would translate into higher productive ability of every other industry, and the cost benefit becomes ever more stark in favor of bringing uncultivated land under cultivation.
The benefit of invading Taiwan and the slaughter of potentially millions of people is, the leaders of China would be known historically, possibly forever along with Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Napoleon, Alexander, Xerxes, Cyrus the Great, Kublai Khan, etc… They will have been conquerors who expanded the boundaries of their empires by violence. The conquest of space benefits the people not the leaders, the conquest of Taiwan benefits the leaders, not the people. Remember, it is the interest of the leaders that the leaders serve, so while we can do a cost benefit analysis all day long and reach the same conclusion every time, those who make the decisions weigh the benefits differently. The dross floats to the top, that is why our leaders always rather wage war of conquest, than bring uncultivated land under cultivation.