US must prepare for an ever more powerful China, think tank says
- Rand Corporation considers how successful the ruling Communist Party is likely to be in achieving the goals it has set for the next 30 years
- ‘Preparing for a triumphant or ascending China seems most prudent for the United States,’ it says
In doing so it considered four possible futures in which China is either “triumphant”, meaning it has achieved all of its goals, “ascendant”, having achieved some but not all of its goals, “stagnant”, meaning it has failed in its ambitions, and “imploding”, meaning the regime itself is under threat.
The report, which was compiled for the US military and published last week, concluded that “ascendant” and “stagnant” were the most likely outcomes.
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And while the researchers failed to go so far as to say China’s leaders would be completely triumphant and achieve all of their goals, the US should be ready in case they did.
“Preparing for a triumphant or ascending China seems most prudent for the United States because these scenarios align with current PRC [People’s Republic of China] national development trends and represent the most challenging future scenarios for the US military,” it said.
The researchers eliminated the possibility of the two nations enjoying a “close partnership” in the future, saying that while it had always been unlikely, it had now “faded from even remote possibility”.
The sort of relationship the two countries had in 2018 could only be achieved in the future in the event of a “stagnant” China, the study said.
In the event of an ascendant China, economic, diplomatic and military ties between the two countries would be hard to predict in the medium to long term, it said.
“As such, there will be a fine line between parallel partners and colliding competitors in this most likely future – a line that could be crossed for any number of reasons as the relationship evolves,” it said.
“Because China probably will be able to contest all domains of conflict across the broad swathe of the region by the mid-2030s, the US Army, as part of the joint force, will need to be able to respond immediately to crises or contingencies at various points of contention,” it said.
That would mean the US military would have to “optimise key units and capabilities for available airlift and sealift to get soldiers to the fight quickly or to a hotspot before the fight breaks out”.
“The Pacific theatre likely will remain for the foreseeable future primarily focused on contested maritime and air domains, however, the US Army must prioritise capabilities development in keeping with larger joint force objectives.
“Much of the army’s focus will necessarily be on the need for land-based competitive advantage in Europe, but the long-term prominence of the China challenge will require increased investment in a range of capabilities for the Indo-Pacific as well,” the report said.
“China intends to achieve military advantage from key technologies such as quantum computing and communications, artificial intelligence and biotechnology,” it said.
“Success in these and related areas will, to a great extent, determine the nature of US-PRC, and global, military competition over the next 30 years.”