Let’s Talk About Great Power Competition with China

October 26, 2016

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In this episode of Pacific Pundit, we have the audacity to argue that great power competition exists between the United States and China. Our history segment reminisces about War Plan Orange and the importance of taking a long view of competition when faced with rising revisionist powers. In conversations with Oriana Mastro (Georgetown University) and Tai Ming Cheung (UC San Diego), we explore various causes and consequences of competition between the United States and China.  We also turn to new research by Phil Saunders and Julia Bowie in The Journal of Strategic Studies that examines the military side of Sino-U.S. relations.


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Van Jackson is a senior editor at War on the Rocks.

Image: U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Burke

Music by Nangdo–Foolin’ (Chrome “Album”) and The Look (Chrome “Album”).

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5 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Great Power Competition with China

  1. Good episode. I’m no expert, but I’ll go out on a limb and predict that Hillary’s administration will be similarly reluctant to face up to great power competition with China. To do so would be to implicitly acknowledge that China has a potential sphere of influence; in that sense it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Eventually, events will overtake things. It seems quite likely to me that by 2030 the US simply will not be able to pretend that it has military FON in the SCS. The interesting question is whether policymakers will be able to admit this without an actual military confrontation. But I expect we’ll muddle along for the next couple of administrations before issues really come to a head.

    1. Why? There’s already plenty of precedent establishing that artificially enlarged reefs and atolls aren’t islands, so China can’t claim a 12-mile limit around them. To deny FON — maritime or aerial — they’d have to actively prevent it. While the Chinese are more than willing to muscle local fishing fleets out of the way, there’s no advantage to forcing a military confrontation. Simply let the Americans move through and be done with it. Worse, any sort of a military confrontation would drive commercial insurance rates through the roof. The major destinations for ships transiting the SCS are China and Japan…and there are alternate routes to Japan.

      The Chinese are pragmatic. They’ve already tied Taiwan so tightly to them economically that there’s no point to an invasion…even better for them, we don’t seem to realize it, so it’s an easy flag to distract us with. If Duarte remains in power in the Philippines, they’ll secure that flank without much effort. That leaves Vietnam and Malaysia, neither of which are much of an obstacle to Chinese ambitions. They can afford to let us cut wakes through the SCS, because ultimately, we’re not going to drive a military confrontation, either, regardless of who’s in office. The new status quo in the SCS will become like the North Atlantic during the Cold War — we and the PLAN will stare at either other a lot, play a few games of chicken and life will go on.

    2. US voters prioritize confronting Russia (Hillary) over confronting China (Trump). Makes sense in the short term.

      I think USA should not contain or confront China but be flexible enough to adapt to the new Chinese order. That will prolong the US ’empire’. There are other more pressing trouble spots that deserve attention. SCS is a no-winner we should shed.

      1. “US voters prioritize confronting Russia (Hillary) over confronting China (Trump). Makes sense in the short term.”

        I think you give too many American voters too much credit.

        And is HRC going to “confront” Russia the same way she did as SoS? Will Bill CLinton be making more $500,000 a pop speeches to the Kremlin oligarchy’s bankers?