TEHRAN - David M. Lampton, professor and director of China Studies at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, says an “armed conflict” between China and the United States is “possible” because an “incident” between China and one of American allies like Japan and the Philippines “could drag the United States in”.
Lampton, the author of a new book entitled “Following the Leader: Ruling China, from Deng Xiaoping to Xi Jinping”, also says the Chinese are “determined” to convert their economic power into military power.
Following is the text of the interview with the Tehran Times:
Q: Is long-term confrontation with China possible? Likely?
A: High levels of confrontation and conflict between the United States and China are not inevitable, though some frictions in the security and economic areas are to be expected. The question is how to manage frictions so they don't become confrontations, much less armed conflict. Armed conflict with China is possible, given that China and American allies such as Japan and Philippines have large numbers of military and paramilitary assets operating close to one another. An incident between China and one of them could drag the United States in. As to how long tense relations could persist, both Beijing and Washington have incentives to keep economic and many other forms of cooperation operating as smoothly as possible, but there are possibilities that strategic competition could last for decades. The task for leaders is to find ways to prevent an extensive military arms race from developing and to find areas where we can meaningfully cooperate while other parts of the relationship are more friction-laden. The U.S. and China are at an important turning point in their bilateral ties. We called the last era with China ‘engagement’. It is not clear what we call the next period.
Q: Is China's economic power easily converted into military power?
A: Economic power is an important foundation on which military and intellectual power are built. However, it is not easy to convert economic power into military power, though over time the Chinese are proving increasingly able to do so. Modern military power not only requires technology, which itself is dependent on a country's educational level and innovative capacities, but also on organizational skills, management, and abilities to coordinate air, sea, land, cyber, and space power. Obtaining all these capabilities and then integrating them is not easy, it will take time, but the Chinese have already demonstrated they can do these things and are determined to do so. Another aspect to consider is the will of the Chinese people, popular support, and other competing domestic needs, such as economic and social development. China's national will is clearly supportive of military strength, but there are competing domestic development needs that will constrain how large a policy emphasis is put on military development. China will move steadily ahead, but unless the security environment deteriorates markedly, I expect the emphasis to remain on domestic economic and social development.