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Warning of ‘intense’ war as China’s military might approaches US

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A war between China and the US would be “intense, destructive, and protracted”, according to an analysis for the US Army that warns the fast-growing Asian power is quickly closing the ­technological gap and could match America’s military within a decade.

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The Rand Corporation analysis says even a limited war ­between China and the US would rock the world economy and devastate the region and urges that it is crucial to do much more to ensure it doesn’t happen.

The report, recently made public by Rand, has emerged at a time of growing concern in some Australian quarters about Chinese ­investment in critical infrastructure such as power grids since Beijing’s adoption under President Xi Jinping of a much more assertive and aggressive foreign policy, particularly in the South China Sea.

Strategic analyst Paul Dibb told The Australian last night a US-China conflict could break out ­almost by accident and, in a crisis, Beijing might not consider the cost of interfering with Australia’s critic­al infrastructure.

“Would the cost matter in a crisis­ where we were involved and they wanted to cut off the electricity supply to our intelligence authorities, for instance?” Professor Dibb said.

The Rand report says both the US and China have focused on how to win a war between the two superpowers and have paid too ­little attention to the economic and political damage it would do or to the consequences of shattering the world order.

The report, War with China: Thinking Through the Unthinkable, says the US could win a war now because of its technological edge but that advantage would be very significantly reduced by Chin­ese advances within 10 years.

US military expenditure, at $US610 billion ($797bn), is almost three times China’s, but China’s army ranks number 1.6 million, ­almost three times America’s 540,000 soldiers.

If a severe conflict occurred now, both sides would suffer large military losses, though those of the US would be much less than China’s.

But that gap would shrink drama­tically by 2025, as China built up its ability to saturate enemy naval forces with missiles in the strategy known as “anti-­access area denial”. “By 2025, US losses could range from significant to heavy,” the report says.

A US victory would be much less certain then. “China’s A2AD will make it increasingly difficult for the United States to gain milit­ary-operational dominance and victory, even in a long war,” it says.

Rand’s authors stress that they are not predicting a war between the US and China.

But, they say, tensions exist ­between the US and China on a number of issues in the East and South China seas and it is plausible that a conflict could arise out of a mishandled crisis.

Given the improvements in the military capabilities of both countries, such a conflict could be “intense, destructive, and protract­ed”. “Thus, Sino-US war, perhaps a large and costly one, is not just thinkable, it needs more thought,” their report says.

As an example, Beijing might underestimate America’s willingness to intervene if China tried to intimidate a neighbour such as Japan in a crisis over disputed territory in the East China Sea.

Professor Dibb said a conflict was “unthinkable and unlikely but it is plausible and it could erupt in my view from a miscalcul­ation or a deliberate act of provocation between China and the US in the East China Sea or the South China Sea”.

“It’s not the US on the edge of planning for war It’s the sort of prudent scenario planning you would expect any military to undertake.”

The Rand report says while the US must plan to win a war with China, it must also consider how to limit war and its costs. It suggests such a war would be waged mainly by surface warships and submarines, aircraft and missiles, in space against satellites and in cyberspace.

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Read more at The Australian

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