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One of the most significant themes heading into 2019, is the new US-China Cold War. Recent tit-for-tat exchanges on economic, political and strategic fronts threaten to escalate into a full-blown conflict between both superpowers.

As Washington squeezes Beijing economically through an escalating trade war, it simultaneously uses Freedom of navigation (FON) to sail its warships and or fly its nuclear-capable Boeing B-52 bombers dangerously close to Beijing's militarized islands in the heavily disputed South China Sea. This high-stakes game of chicken is now spiraling out of control and could lead to a possible military conflict.

Last month, President Trump slapped Beijing with new tariffs on an additional $200 billion worth of Chinese products, adding to the $50 billion applied on Chinese imports earlier this year, said Asia Times.

Trump also threatened to slap tariffs on another $267 billion of Chinese imports if Beijing failed to address concerns over what his administration views China's predatory and unfair trade practices.

China responded by applying retaliatory tariffs on $60 billion worth of American imports while suspending trade negotiations with Washington.

Asia Times said China "views its roiled relations with the US as an existential struggle, with the ongoing trade war seen as part of a broader containment strategy Washington is now intensifying through military means in the South China Sea."

Alibaba founder Jack Ma recently warned that Trump’s trade war with China could lead to military conflict.

"When trade stops, sometimes the war starts. So trade is the way to stop wars," Ma warned Tuesday during an opening panel discussion at the World Trade Organization Public Forum in Geneva. "Trade is the way to build up trust," he continued. "Trade is not the weapon to fight against each other."

"I think China and the U.S. should work together to solve this challenge, create more jobs, cure poverty, use technology to solve disease and the environment—instead of this kind of war," the billionaire said. "It’s going to destroy not only China-U.S. trade but also lots of other countries and small businesses," he warned.

On Sunday, a US destroyer conducting FON in the area of the disputed Gaven and Johnson Reefs in the sea’s Spratly chain of islands, encountered a Chinese warship that almost led to a massive accident.

The US Navy criticize China of engaging in an "unsafe and unprofessional maneuver," as a Chinese warship narrowly missed (by 120 feet) USS Decatur’s bow, which would of caused a devastating collision at sea.

In response, China accused the US Navy of violating its "sovereignty and security" and said the US' FON deployments of warships near its militarized islands without permission were "seriously damaging" bilateral ties.

We have covered China's extensive militarization of the South China Sea. Beijing now has fortified islands in the disputed waters where trillions of dollars in trade flow through on a per annum basis.

While Beijing militarizes these disputed waters, Washington is preparing Japan, Australia, Taiwan, and South Korea for military conflict.

US Navy Admiral Philip Davidson visited Manila last week and signed a new defense agreement with the Philippines that will increase joint military exercises near the disputed waters.

A scheduled meeting for October between US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Chinese General Wei Fengh in Beijing was canceled due to rising tensions.

China also called off a meeting between its naval chief, Vice Admiral Shen Jinlong, and Washington officials in Newport, Rhode Island.

In last week's UN Security Council meeting, Trump accused Beijing of trying to meddle in US elections.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi denied Trump’s accusations, reiterating that China "will not interfere in any countries’ domestic affairs," and "refuse[s] to accept any unwarranted accusations against China."

The tit-for-tat exchanges between US-China on economic, political and strategic fronts increases the probability that a full-blown conflict between the superpowers is on the horizon, likely to start in the South China Sea.