How to avoid a Sino-American war

By Zhao Minghao
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, November 25, 2015
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In particular, the U.S.-Japan alliance is undergoing historic transformation, with renewed guidelines for defense cooperation that allow for greater Japanese autonomy in security affairs – and that present China as the main adversary. Add to that the potential deployment of a U.S.-led missile-defense system in South Korea and the prospect of a U.S. military presence in Vietnam, and it is not difficult to understand China's anxiety.

The U.S. is placing economic pressure on China as well – at a time, no less, when China is struggling to implement risky domestic reforms amid slowing growth. The U.S. recently attempted to block the establishment of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and then to stop its allies from joining.

Moreover, by repeatedly calling the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership a "strategic" project, it has politicized the trade deal, which, as the economist Arvind Subramanian has pointed out, will place Chinese firms at a disadvantage in the U.S. and in Asian markets. This effort undoubtedly deserves to be described as "containment."

For Chinese policymakers, America is not the status quo power it claims to be. In the face of U.S. attempts to reshuffle regional security and economic arrangements, China feels that it has no choice but to prepare for worst-case scenarios – an approach that is reflected in Chinese President Xi Jinping's so-called "bottom-line concept."

With a new round of policy debate about China unfolding in the U.S., tensions may be about to increase. Most American strategists are not only pessimistic about the future of the bilateral relationship; they also identify China as a potent threat to America's role in Asia.

A recent report for the relatively moderate Council on Foreign Relations states that America's effort "to 'integrate' China into the liberal international order" has generated "new threats" not only to U.S. primacy in Asia, but also to America's global power. Given this, the report's authors argue, the U.S. needs "a new grand strategy" toward China that focuses on balancing – rather than supporting – the country's ascendancy.

Michael Swaine, a seasoned Asian security expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, also doubts the sustainability of American primacy in the Asia-Pacific region in the coming decades. He advocates a less antagonistic strategy: a multi-stage process of mutual accommodation to create a more stable regional power balance between the U.S. and China.

Ensuring stable peace and continued prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region will require both China and the U.S. to replace their self-serving interpretations of the other's strategic intentions with more sober assessments. In the short term, that means recognizing that the challenge of navigating complex maritime issues involving so many ambitious regional players must be addressed in a pragmatic and cooperative manner.

By activating top-level diplomacy, building strong crisis-management mechanisms, and enriching the rules of engagement in the South China Sea, a war between the U.S. and China can be avoided. Given the vast damage that such a conflict could cause, this approach is less an option than a necessity.

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