Rand Corp analysis – Although armed conflict between the United States and China is not likely, the possibility is real enough to require prudent policies and effective deterrent measures. In the past six years, the range and capabilities of Chinese air and sea defenses have continued to grow, making U.S. forward basing more vulnerable and the direct defense of U.S. interests in the East Asia region potentially more costly. Neither the United States nor China is likely to employ nuclear weapons, but even an initially localized conflict could quickly spread into the economic, cyber, and space realms, doing considerable damage to both sides. One means of improving the prospects for direct defense and reducing the risk of escalation is for the United States to continue to enable the capabilities and buttress the resolve of China’s neighbors. And a parallel effort should be made to draw China into cooperative security endeavors, not only to avoid the appearance of an anti-China coalition but also to obtain greater contributions to international security from the world’s second strongest power.
* The United States should focus on deescalating localized clashes in East Asia.
* The United States should move sooner rather than later — before its power position in the region diminishes further — to constructively engage China across a range of potential flash points, such as conflicting maritime claims in the South China Sea, cross-Strait relations, issues on the Korean Peninsula.
* The United States should maintain a dense network of diplomatic relationships with China while strengthening channels for crisis communications, including regular leader-to-leader, military-to-military contacts.
By 2030, China’s gross domestic product (GDP) could exceed that of the United States. If it chose, China could therefore become a more capable opponent than either the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany at their peak. Yet China has shown no interest in matching U.S. military expenditures, achieving a comparable global reach, or assuming substantial defense commitments beyond its immediate periphery. Such intentions might change, but if they do, the United States would probably receive considerable warning, given the lead times needed to develop such capabilities.
Rand reviews possible conflict areas
Rand list Korea first because it is the most likely locus of conflict in Asia, although not necessarily of a Sino-American conflict. Under most scenarios, China is unlikely to intervene in defense of North Korea, its increasingly estranged ally, but China might well become involved in pursuit of its own interests. a North Korean collapse could emanate from a failed economy; a contested power transition after the death of Kim Jong-un, who is young but seeming to be in poor health; or defeat in a war with South Korea. In any such scenario, the situation in North Korea would likely be chaotic. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of civilians would migrate toward North Korea’s borders in search of food and safety from clashes between rival armed groups. Collapse of central control would also jeopardize the security of the north’s weapons of mass destruction and missile assets. China could send sizable forces across the Yalu River to sort out refugee flows on the Korean side of its border. The immediate operational concerns for United States Forces Korea and Combined Forces Command, and perhaps also for China, would be to secure ballistic missile launch and weapons of mass destruction sites.
Nextbigfuture does not believe China and the USA will have any accidental or intentional conflict over North Korea. There could be a war involving Korea but it will be a North Korea versus South Korea-USA conflict.
* South China Sea
Rand notes China’s buildup of capability and islands in the South China Sea and its aggressive regional claims.
Nextbigfuture does not believe the USA will fight China over South China Sea claims. The US can bolster South East Asian militaries but China will end up getting the bulk of the South China Sea.
Nextbigfuture also does not believe that the USA will actually fight over Taiwan. China would mess things up by trying to forcefully repress Taiwan. China has to work long term to improve its economy and provide and prove non-repressive treatment of Hong Kong and Taiwan to win Taiwan over.
Nextbigfuture believes that China will be more powerful than India for the next few decades. There will be no major China-India conflict.
* Economic war
Nextbigfuture believes there will be economic disagreements and competition. Any full scale trade war will be temporary.
Rand now rates rate conflict originating in the South China Sea as more likely than one over Taiwan.
The US needs focus on improving technology, education and economy. The US needs to reduce military expenditures and commitments. In the modern world there are no gains to be had from major power military conflict.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.