Beijing—Think tanks in the United States seem to be excessively creative. The latest example is a study by three researchers of Rand Corporation, which is considered close to the US military. The 116-page paper, “War with China: Thinking through the Unthinkable”, says a war between China and the US in the next 10 years is “not unimaginable”.
The paper projects four possible types of war: short-term low intensity, long-term high intensity, short-term high intensity, and long-term high intensity. And it concludes that in any case China’s losses would be more that of the US.
The US media love to talk about a possible China-US war, but Rand is the first to discuss it in such detail. Perhaps some people in the US have reached a conclusion that Beijing has already become Washington’s arch rival.
According to the theory of “aggressive realism”, war is unavoidable between a rising power and the existing power. But China is different, it doesn’t want a war with any country, let alone the US. And even though the US loves to flex its military muscles to browbeat other countries into submission, it is wise enough to know the difference between a big and small potential enemy.
During the Cold War, the US and the Soviet Union came close to a real war during the two Berlin crises and the Cuban Missile crisis, but each time Washington pulled back before it was too late. The instances have become reference points for international relations scholars.
The Rand report says, if a war breaks out between the US and China, it will “be a regional regular war”. But if a war really breaks out between the two sides, it will be different because both sides would fight to their respective advantages. The report’s claim that China will suffer more losses than the US also sounds unconvincing, because even a poorly armed Chinese military has almost always ended up defeating a more powerful enemy.
Differences do exist between China and the US, but they are controllable. The two sides were engaged in heated verbal exchanges over the disputes in the South China Sea, with the US sending its aircraft and navy vessels in the waters and China conducting naval drills.
After an international tribunal in The Hague announced its arbitral award, their war of words intensified but the situation didn’t spiral out of control.
Washington understands Beijing will not succumb to external pressures and the South China Sea disputes have to be settled by the disputing parties themselves.
Such maritime disputes unrelated to the US have cast a shadow over China-US ties, temporarily eclipsing the bright side of their common interests and cooperation. But their cooperation still continues in many areas. The Iranian nuclear issue and the Paris Climate Treaty are cases in point.
The recent visit of US National Security Adviser Susan Rice to China to prepare for US President Barack Obama’s participation in the G20 summit in Hangzhou and for his meeting with President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the summit is another such example.
It is a fact that differences exist between China and the US but it is also a fact that they share common interests and need cooperation. This “rivalry plus cooperation” relationship will continue.
The Rand Corporation researchers prepared the report on the request of the office of the US Department of the Army’s deputy secretary, but its preface says the report does not necessarily represent Rand’s opinion or that of the client; it is only the opinion of the three researchers.
Since the report reflects the ideas of some Washington officials, US think tanks should make efforts to help promote cooperation and reduce the differences between China and the US, instead of fomenting trouble between the two largest economies, because the two sides need more positive energy to guide their relations in the right direction.