By David AxeOver the next 15-20 years, the U.S. and China are headed for a confrontation in the western Pacific, with Japan caught in the middle. And China, currently the underdog, could very well come out on top. That’s the unnerving conclusion of a new report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
The nine authors of “China’s Military & the U.S.-Japan Alliance in 2030,” released Thursday, stress that a full-blown shooting war is not in the cards. “The threat is not a war with China,” the report states. Rather, Washington and its close ally Tokyo could find themselves losing influence and disputed island territory to an increasingly unconstrained Beijing that finds it can “win without fighting” owing to a combination of its own military rise and its rivals’ relative declines.
But Chinese “victory” in this projected 2030 conflict is not preordained. It’s also feasible the U.S. and Japan could “win” as their own armies and economies rally against a China dragged down by shrinking exports and demographic stagnation.
In any event, change of some sort is probably coming, the report authors say, although what change is unclear. The status quo – a western Pacific comfortably dominated by the U.S. with its aircraft carriers, bombers and Marine regiments, with Japan playing a key supporting role and China steadily adding to its military arsenal while biding its time — is “unsustainable,” they claim.
What follows are sketches of three possible scenarios from the report, representing two extremes plus a sort of strategic middle ground in the anticipated Great China-America Showdown of 2030.