China has long lived with what it considers an existential threat just a few miles off its shores, the breakaway province of Taiwan, a democratically ruled island whose very existence scares China's ruling communist party to its core.
But with President Donald Trump's friendly approach to the island and a new, pro-independence government in power in Taipei, China has been seen flexing its military muscle and talking tough about Taiwan in increasingly alarming ways.
Though the US and other western countries provide weapons to Taiwan, the island of just 23 million can't reasonably expect to stand up to the massive mainland China alone.
As a precondition for any sort of relations with the mainland, Beijing demands states only recognize China's communist government, not the democratic one in Taiwan that claims to be the country's true leadership.
Dr. Ken Geers, a cybersecurity expert for Comodo with experience in the NSA, told Business Insider that if war ever broke out between the two countries that claim to be China's rightful government, the first step could be the devastation of a US.
"If there was a war that started where China wanted to retake Taiwan, the first thing that might happen is the lights might go out in New York City," Geers said.
China's future war plan
Why are they wearing helmets? (NTDTV YouTube)
China is known to have formidable cyberwarfare capabilities and is thought to have stolen tons of sensitive military technology from the US. Trump is currently pursuing fixes to the leak of US intellectual property into Chinese hands, which some estimate to cost hundreds of billions of dollars a year.
Geers saw first hand how Russia employed hybrid warfare, a mix of cyber, information, and conventional fighting, to attack the Baltic states in 2008 and later annex Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
Geers, like other top military minds, consider this a preview of the future of warfare, which will likely take place in all domains simultaneously.
"When they did they first electricity attack in the west in Ukraine, it was far from the field of battle," Geers said. "It's interesting that the lights went out on the westernmost part of Ukraine. It's one of those things that's eye-opening about the transformation or evolution of warfare."
For this reason, Geers thinks that China would stage a cyber attack on an important US city to blindside and distract the US.
While the White House puzzled over how to get the infrastructure of a major financial hub back together, China's ships and planes could quickly make strides towards retaking Taiwan.