Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Sino-US war unlikely but not impossible
Global Times | November 15, 2011 23:01
By Global Times
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Luo Yuan (罗援)

Editor's Note:
A recent report released by the RAND Corporation, a US think tank specializing in military studies, examined the prospect of China and the US going to war, but concluded it improbable. What is the ultimate red line for a major military conflict between the two powers? Will the US back other Asian countries in provoking China? Global Times (GT) reporter Wang Wenwen talked to Major General Luo Yuan (Luo), deputy secretary-general of the PLA Academy of Military Sciences, and Robert M. Farley (Farley), a professor at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce in the University of Kentucky, on these issues.

GT: Some people predict that China will be a real competitor for the US in the next few decades. Do you think a war between China and the US will ever occur? If it does occur, what can be the trigger?

Luo: At the current stage, both countries don't have the desire to start a war, nor do they have the capability. However, if China's core interests such as its sovereignty, national security and unity are intruded on, a military conflict will be unavoidable.

Farley: I think that war is unlikely, but not impossible. Both countries have a lot to lose, both from the conflict itself and the overall fallout. If war does occur, I suspect that the trigger will be a miscalculation over Taiwan, or possibly North Korea. Some in the US might feel compelled to defend Taiwan following a declaration of independence; a North Korean collapse will lead to competition over the new structure of politics on the Korean Peninsula. 

The first and most important consequence is that Americans and Chinese will die.
Robert M. Farley

GT: What will be the consequence if a military conflict happens?

Luo: The war could cause destruction to both sides, with the US having more to lose. China is the largest foreign holder of US debt. The US dare not irritate China easily, and China is also tied to the US. If a war starts, the two countries will suffer economic losses immediately. As both countries have nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, the consequence will be disastrous if the war escalates.

Farley: The first and most important consequence is that Americans and Chinese will die. Another major consequence will be a severing of the US-China economic relationship no matter who wins the war, which could induce another global financial collapse and throw much of the world into a very severe recession.

GT: The RAND report says the war may start over China's border countries or regions like North Korea, India, the South China Sea or Taiwan Straits. Do you think so?

Luo: The US is a pragmatic country. It will try to trigger a war in other countries or regions to deplete their powers while maintaining its own safety. The US will not really get involved into a war if the harm is greater than the benefits. Even if it does get involved, it won't sacrifice itself for its allies.


Robert M. Farley

Farley: I doubt that the US will become engaged in the South China Sea in any but a supporting role. However, the Taiwan situation is ripe for miscalculation by all the parties involved. I'm a bit less worried about either India or North Korea. While the US and India have been building a good relationship, the focus of Indian foreign policy remains on Pakistan, and previous Indo-Pakistani wars haven't dragged either China or the US in. In North Korea, I'm optimistic that diplomats will be able to work out the major issues without war.

GT: Will the US draw China's neighboring countries to its side to rival with China?

Luo: Definitely. The US has already display its power through China's neighboring countries. For example, it has conducted naval exercises amid growing tensions with China over disputed waters in the South China Sea. It sells arms worth millions of dollars to India as a sign of its desire to deepen defense cooperation with that nation.

Farley: The US will definitely attempt to rely on some of its allies. If North Korea does become a flashpoint, Japan is quite likely to become involved, as well as South Korea. Naval conflict in the South China Sea would almost certainly involve Vietnam and the Philippines. The big question mark is Taiwan, where it's unclear that anyone but the US would be interested in defending the island. Japan has substantial economic connections with Taiwan island, but then it also has such connections with the Chinese mainland.

The US will not really get involved into a war if the harm is greater than the benefits.
Luo Yuan

GT: Some US military sources say the US can easily destroy China's small nuclear arsenal. What do you think? Can a nuclear war ever happen?

Luo: This is not the first time that the Americans have made such crazy remarks. It should be noted that everybody is vulnerable to nuclear attack. Although China has pledged no first-use of nuclear weapons, it will not keep them just on display in life-and-death moments for the nation.

Farley: I think the Chinese nuclear arsenal is very vulnerable to US attack right now, and probably will remain so for some time. However, I also think that the US would be extremely reluctant to start a nuclear war. The problem is again miscalculation. If China believes that the US is likely to launch an attack on its nuclear forces, it might be inclined to use those assets to pre-empt the US attack.

GT: The RAND report believes that conflict between China and the US is more likely to occur in the field of the Internet or economy. What can be the consequence of an Internet war? What would be the intensity and consequence of an economic war?

Luo: The US is good at covering up its own misdeeds by shifting the blame on other countries. It accuses China of being the center of Internet crime.

However, the US established a cyber command to start an online arms race. Not only the armed forces, but also ordinary people of both sides will be involved if an Internet war occurs.

Farley: An economic war would have very serious consequences for the global economy. Everyone around the world would hurt in the short term. In the long term, we would likely see a shift to regional trade blocs around the great powers, rather than the global free trade that prevails today.

GT: To avoid a war between China and the US, what can be done by both sides?

Luo: The main conflicts between China and the US are reflected in the fields of politics, economy, national security and interests. Only when the US gives up Cold War ideas can these conflicts be eased. Both countries should respect each other's way of development and not provoke other's core interests. But I doubt whether the US can do this.

Farley: The best solution is to make sure that the two sides understand each other's negotiating positions very, very well. Dense relationships between the US and China across various spheres will help create groups that have a vested interest in preventing war, and that understand each other well enough to appreciate the dangers of specific flashpoints.

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