What would a China/America war look like?

September 19, 2012

As tensions in East Asia heat up, over at The Diplomat, they have begun what is to be a series of posts imagining what a war between the United States and China might look like.  They call it “The Nightmare Scenario.”   I will monitor the series, but I suspect the nightmare would be all China’s, now and in the near future.  The Chinese have little ability to project power beyond their immediate neighborhood, yet they are exceptionally dependent on long, vulnerable sea lines of communication.  Her “string of pearls” strategy remains an unfinished dream and, even if it were complete, would represent an isolated series of outposts unable to mutually support one another.  The US Navy could strangle Chinese commercial activity thousands of miles beyond effective Chinese military power.



  1. Your analysis is wrong. Admittedly, China is currently a local land-based power, but her abilities to project force at a distance grow exponentially — not linearly. Furthermore, as a country, China is willing to put whatever resources it deems necessary into its millitary, and feels no compunction to devulge its investment. Furthermore, in times of war, land-based powers traditionally turn inward.
    In fact, it is the US that would suffer — but at the commercial / industrial level (not the military level) — particularly in a confrontation of medium duration. Too many basic commodities (e.g., basic electronic components) are sourced from China.
    China could inflict a great deal of damage on her neighbours, forcing the US to devote considerable resouces — and sustain heavy losses — in a theatre distant from the US mainland. That has never been popular with the US population, and ultimately would force a US withdrawl or abandonment of committment.
    I don’t think that the US could win a quick “blitzkrieg” style war. The US does not have sufficient resources and China can mobilized deep reserves. The US could win a long protracted war, as its industrial capacity would re-assert its potential.

    • I will respectfully, but forcefully, disagree with that. The US would not seek to win a “blitzkrieg type” war – that would be China’s goal. The US would, to borrow a phrase, utilize an Anaconda strategy and squeeze them commercially. Chinese goods are not, for the most part, high value and in a globalized world, there are many eager nations that would gladly leap in to fill the production vacuum for cheap goods. On the other hand, the US could shut down the raw materials coming and and the exports going out and strangle the economy. China will not for at least a decade be able to challenge the US Navy outside its territorial waters. If the US wanted to close the Straits of Malacca to Chinese shipping, there is nothing the PLAN could do about it.

  2. Your assessment is very naive, just like the neocons assumed, wrongly as it turned, that it would be a cakewalk into Iraq 10 years ago. We all know how that ended up. Obviously, that harsh lesson has already been forgotten. Have you considered that the Chinese would be willing to use nuclear weapons against the US if cornered? A Chinese general said recently that they are prepared to loose up to 300 million of their population in a nuclear exchange with the US. Is the US likewise prepared to loose millions of its own citizens if that happened?

    • The Iraq invasion was, in fact, a cakewalk. It was the occupation that was problematic. Here, I am discussing neither invading nor occupying China, but constricting its trade. As for the obvious bluff and bluster of the insane nuclear war threat – only the truly naive take that seriously. Please note that the US is so “frightened” by China’s mighty nuclear arsenal that we are building the superstructure of containment at an even more rapid pace.

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