WASHINGTON – China will likely use its growing power to try to force its way with Japan but it is doubtful that it will enter a Cold War-style confrontation with the United States, a new study says.
The report issued Thursday by the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace aims to be the most comprehensive unclassified assessment of China’s rise and its impact on the Japan-U.S. alliance in the years ahead.
Beijing, which has been boosting its defense spending by double digits each year, has an increasingly tense relationship with Tokyo, which has voiced alarm at the frequency of incursions by Chinese ships around the disputed but Japan-held Senkaku Islands.
The report said China likely saw force as a last resort in foreign affairs, but that Beijing may see its interests in the islet group — known as the Diaoyu in Chinese — as a special case.
“The most likely potential challenge to the U.S.-Japan alliance over the next 15 to 20 years does not involve full-scale military conflict between China and Japan or the United States — for example, one originating from Chinese efforts to expel Washington from the region,” it noted.
“The likeliest challenge instead stems from Beijing’s growing coercive power — increasing Chinese military capabilities could enable Beijing to influence or attempt to resolve disputes with Tokyo in its favor short of military attack,” the study said.
“Dramatic shifts” such as an Asian Cold War pitting China against the United States and its allies or the dawn of a Chinese-dominated Asia are unlikely by 2030, according to the study.
The 395-page report was written by nine experts led by Michael Swaine, a veteran U.S. specialist on Chinese security. It faulted previous studies for looking only at military factors or making worst-case assumptions about Beijing.
The study identified two likeliest scenarios for China. In one, its economy would grow at between 4 and 5 percent annually — a more modest pace than in recent years — and its leadership would focus on domestic stability.
Under such a scenario, China would adopt a “restrained and largely defensive stance” toward Japan and its security alliance with the U.S. over the next 15 to 20 years, largely in keeping with Beijing’s recent policy.
But under another scenario also seen as likely, China would post higher growth and take an increasingly assertive posture. Beijing would probably try more actively to pressure Tokyo, but would also seek economic cooperation and attempt to avoid “excessive alarm” in Japan and the U.S.