The Inevitability Of US-China Conflict

Tyler Durden's picture

The question of whether conflict between US and China is inevitable is among the most important for the world as the US-China relationship, as JPMorgan's Michael Cembalest notes, is likely to be one of the most important issues of the 21st century. The inevitability view is sometimes explained by the thesis that countries rarely rise economically without also doing so militarily. The chart below looks at the major economic powers of the world since the year 1 at various intervals. Ignore for the moment some of the abstract issues which this kind of data involves; it’s pretty clear that China’s rise, fall and subsequent rise is something that hasn’t happened a lot over the past 2,000 years, and that the United States is on the front lines of having to adjust to it. Cembalest's recent interview with Henry Kissinger noted the impact of China's troubled relations with the West during the 19th century, which remains on China's political consciousness, and how China might define its interests in different ways than the West would, whether they relate to global energy security, North Korea, global warming, currency management or trade.

On China, and the not-so-inevitable clash of civilizations

At a client event in Beijing last week, I had the opportunity to interview Henry Kissinger on the 40th anniversary of his secret 1971 mission to meet with Zhou Enlai, and 1972 summit meeting with Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong. There are not many missions as impactful as this one was: within a few years, China’s re-opening began, propelled by Deng Xioping’s economic reforms. Reintegrating 20% of the world’s population following China’s central planning disasters of the 1950’s and 1960’s has not been easy for China or for the West, which has since benefited from lower imported goods prices from China, but saw an end to post-war manufacturing-led prosperity. The US-China relationship is likely to be one of the most important issues of the 21st century.


One topic we discussed was the question of whether conflict between the US and China is inevitable, a theme which has permeated a lot of academic and political science journals over the last 20 years. The “inevitable conflict” view has been advanced in different degrees by Yale’s Paul Kennedy, Princeton’s Robert Gilpin and most forcefully, by John Mearshimer at the University of Chicago. Similar concerns are found in “The End of China’s Peaceful Rise”, a 2010 article in Foreign Policy magazine by Elizabeth Economy, Director of Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. The inevitability view is sometimes explained by the thesis that countries rarely rise economically without also doing so militarily. The chart below looks at the major economic powers of the world since the year 1 at various intervals. Ignore for the moment some of the abstract issues which this kind of data involves; it’s pretty clear that China’s rise, fall and subsequent rise is something that hasn’t happened a lot over the past 2,000 years, and that the United States is on the front lines of having to adjust to it.





Any discussion of China’s engagement with the world needs to factor in China’s troubled relations with the West during the 19th century. Kissinger spoke about the impact this era continues to have on China’s political consciousness, which you can grasp by looking at some data and charts: opium imported into China which addicted up to 25% of its adult population, the exodus of Chinese silver to England and India to pay for it, and the collapse in China’s trade surplus. The Chinese Imperial Commissioner sent a letter to Queen Victoria asking her to cease the opium trade, which was banned in China in 1729 and again in 1836. Britain ignored the request. After a Chinese blockade of opium ships, the British invaded in 1840, and easily defeated the Chinese. China was forced to sign the Treaty of Nanking, one of the more one-sided treaties in history. The opium trade then doubled, leading to another war (and Chinese defeat) 20 years later. The Opium Wars played a large part in the collapse of the Qing Dynasty and subsequent occupation by foreign powers. This is not seen as ancient history in China.



With this backdrop, Kissinger encouraged our guests to understand how China might define its interests in different ways than the West would, whether they relate to global energy security, North Korea, global warming, currency management or trade. Kissinger acknowledges the pressures that come from an ideological predisposition in the US to confront the non-democratic world, and Chinese tendencies to sometimes view cooperation with the US as being self-defeating. However, engagement with the West is now central to China achieving its economic goals, and incoming governments in both China and the United States have every incentive to maintain the status quo. According to Kissinger, while conventional theories of realism in international politics point to potential conflict, it would be an overly literal interpretation to consider conflict inevitable. Both sides have a lot to lose and little to gain from conflict escalation, creating conditions in which compromises should be able to be found. If he’s right, US-China relations would be another thing that could go right in the world, confounding more negative expectations.

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smb12321's picture

I'm not exactly sure what we "need" from the rest of the world except perhaps luxury items or cheap Chinese things.   My one concern would be rare metals (we dropped out of the market) and energy (natural gas gives us a tremendous advantage).  We lead the world (by far) in R & D/  We have enough food (we are the world's biggest exporter), water, agriculture land, oceans but more important, two centuries of a national life without resorting to tribalism, regionalism, religious divisions or ethnic division.  Most Americans are Americans first and then Italian, Southern, Latino, etc. 

HungrySeagull's picture

We are not self sustainable.

And our 300 mil is a pittance against China's Billion and a one baby only policy.

smb12321's picture

Many countries can sustain themselves (they did for centuries without trade).  But it is true that the US is unique - a long history of rule of law, incredible agricultural land and climate, access to natural resources and energy, water - you name it. 

And no, Russia was not growing before collapsing.  They didn't produce anything except staples (and these in short supply).  Just the reverse, their civil society was collapsing (had collapsed?) as it became a nation of broken institutions, no marriage and no kids.  Thus the population collapse occuring now.  This "rival" was like a fourth work country (1994)  thought the people were nice and literate.

lordbyroniv's picture

Kissenger set us up.  


China has all our jobs.


We Americans have been betrayed.


Now Kissenger and NWO goons will orchestrate the inevitable war they intended from the beginning.

Sofa King Confused's picture

Exactly....My only question is, if you got that close to Kissenger why didn't you kick him in the nuts?

Vince Clortho's picture

It was a sad day for the entire planet when that pompous, lard-assed hermaphrodite oozed out of his mother's womb.

infotechsailor's picture

i dont see how he set us up... Kissinger helped China and Deng Xiaopeng convert an entire communist state into a capitalist global superpower. Considering they could have remained a backwards, communist ally of the Soviets, how was it a bad thing to develop productive industry in China?

Kissinger does some scary things, organizing secretive trade deals, sure. But the over-regulation and the push for socialism here is to blame for our loss of jobs, not the success of China's free-market capitalism.

USSA gives capitalism a bad name (by calling zombie-bank ruled corporatocracy a capitalist country)

PRC gives communism a good name (by calling a free-market capitalist republic a communist country)

GeneMarchbanks's picture

So the US can expect many more ICBC branches to mushroom locally in the next decade or so? You don't say.

dick cheneys ghost's picture

Politics of there an double levered ETF for the MIC?

Zola's picture

The need for china was because they knew the dollar link to gold was going to break and wo a source of cheap labor to dampen the salaries in US, the wage/price spiral would have bankrupted their ponzi. They needed slave like labor to dampen the inflation they unleashed

MajorWoody's picture

Somebody gets it! Nice.

falak pema's picture

the seminal analysis of Friedmanism and floating rates, after BW revoke,  hit the inflation spiral and it was Volcker medicine and subsequent Thatcher-Reagan entente that broke the back of the unions, and allowed the asset risk model to flower, as wages were capped and then bootstrapped out to Asia. Game over, first world welfare states! 

HungrySeagull's picture

And a few Panda bullion to sop up the last few remaining weak hands.

narnia's picture

Maybe our "inevitable" conflict with China has something to do with physically imposing our will (directly or by proxy) in Central Asia, the South China Sea, Sudan/Uganda & anywhere else China explores or trades for energy. Maybe it has something to do with the outright shenanigans we play in global currency markets.

Maybe it has nothing to do with some historical horseshit about how stupid failed emerging empires like the US acted in the past & more about how failing empires like the US will act on the way down. Maybe the Chinese & Indians have woken up to the outright desperation & charade in these ridiculous global enterprises like the UN & its illegitimate offspring.

Mercury's picture

This rainbow GDP chart is a little crazy and it doesn’t show that world GDP has grown dramatically.

dark pools of soros's picture

it works perfectly in showing who is producing most of the pie

Mercury's picture

I suppose.

Empirical proof that the USA has been exceptional anyway…

azzhatter's picture

TPTB cannot admit that global labor arbitrage is at the root of the current problems in the western world. This would be an admission of total failure in their vision. It has benefitted the few at the expense of the many. They trumpet that the rural chinese enslaved in production are at least better off than they were in their farms. The same way the slaveholders argued that the slaves were better off than they were in africa.

Bwahaha WAGFDSMB's picture

This would be an admission of total failure in their vision. It has benefitted the few at the expense of the many.

Doesn't sound like a failure to me.  Sounds like you misunderstood the objective.

RiverRoad's picture

All part and parcel of the Rockerfeller/Rothschild globalization scheme.

Cathartes Aura's picture

indeed - all one need do is stop identifying with a particular land mass, and the inhabitants, re-focus the mind-lens in a wide-angle view, like "they" do - and the whole game becomes more apparent.

Pinktip's picture

I bought (10) used empty 55g drums yesterday from a guy in Bennington VT.

Apple Juice concentrate from China was on the label.

We have Washington state and NY, largest producers of apples in the world and we're buying this crap.

my puppy for prez's picture

The kiddies have to get their doses of lead and mercury SOMEHOW....geez!!!

news printer's picture

because there are lemmings always willing to buy; ofcourse after proper advertisment ;)

emersonreturn's picture local.  stop buying shit.

sangell's picture

When Germany grew to Great Power status they looked around the world and found the British and French had got there before them. They only got scraps for their empire so for them to get a 'place in the sun' they had to defeat these powers. They tried in 1870, 1914 and 1939.

Buckaroo Banzai's picture

Not accurate. The British financial interests were terrified of Germany opening up a trade route to the far east via their allies, the Turks. This fact, combined with Germany's burgeoning industrial power, made them a real threat to the City of London interests that were consolidating their power over the globe in the early 20th century. They maneuvered the Germans into WW1 and eliminated the threat.

ITrustMyGut's picture

says it all..

"Chinese tendencies to sometimes view cooperation with the US as being self-defeating."

falak pema's picture

Ah, at last something to get your forward looking geopolitical front teeth into, like juicy red meat from a Argentinian or Brazilian cow. Its ride VAcquero times to the eastern sunrise. Globalisation means we fight on all Oligarchy continents. 


Yes this is the BIG subject, as US debt crisis deepens. As PAx Americana now has a rival it created to make the NWO/Reaganomics mantra come to fruition. What started out as Kissinger "detente" and Metternichian balance of power strategy, with immediate side benefits of allowing Imperial USA to move its mangled, dirty butt out of <Vietnam, became the subsequent Eldorado of Oligarchy land with the outsourcing and mega-margin gold rush of the 90-00 decades, under Clinton-GWB. As for non cooperation with non-democratic eastern cultured countries, it is now a joke that would make slit eyes open wide, so Kissinger's hoy-ploy is nothing more than moral posturing, which the world of facts and acts have destroyed beyond reasonable doubt. The west and east are now at par on the moral and democracy front. Alas...

Remember the battle of Carrhae, when head Roman Oligarch of first Triumvirate fame, richest man of Senate, M Licinius Crassus, took on the Parthians, in 53 BC. We may be heading there. If this hottens up to confrontation, the US will now be fighting against the turn of the tide; the head winds now unfurl from East to West, as does Time's pendulum now abide by the land of the rising sun. Surena's cavalry, like the Mongols later on, outmanoeuvered the mighty infantry legions of Rome. Massive military might bit the dust. Drones or no drones. These Chinese are no clones, nor are they clowns. Be warned, Coca Cola and all. 

MajorWoody's picture

By George! you're right!

We (the USA) should take them out now before they get too big.

What's the phrase Tiger, Tiger, Tiger?

Operation Bite the hand that Feeds

Operation No T Bill,  No Cashy

Operation Wal-Mart Re-dux

Operation You call that an aircraft carrier?

Operation Toaster oven

RiverRoad's picture

Our Navy is headed their direction....

Spastica Rex's picture

I think they've anticipated that.

my puppy for prez's picture

I might point out that "Reaganomics" were simply NWOnomics, as were Clintonomics, Bushonomics, Obamonomics.....

And the "-onomics" go on ad infinitum!

falak pema's picture

read my comment on Friedmanism and its inception...below (or above). It was more than an economic tool, Reaganomics,  it was perceived by RR/MT as a civilization tool to take the West out from the Union controlled, labour inflated, welfare state model. It ended up in outsourcing private labour markets, blowing up public sector labour markets in entitlement Admin and MIC industries under RR. And that has never been put right. Ironic.

Spastica Rex's picture

I tried to hit the +100 button, but I couldn't find it.

my puppy for prez's picture

I don't disagree with you at all!

Cathartes Aura's picture

great stuff falak - and if we factor in Reagan's "special relationship" with Maggie T. (interesting that they shared dementia in later years), and see the similar roles played out in the anglo-amrkn nationstates, it becomes ever more obvious. . .

my puppy for prez's picture

Poor little Henry...he is sooo frustrated with the useless eaters'  "conventional theories of realism in international politics"....

Here is the correct interpretation of Kiss-Rockefeller-Butt-inger's remarks:  "You vill ALL have to get used to the reality of a communo-fascist-global government...bitchez!"

If anyone doesn't see the Hegelian nature of his remarks, Thesis (US)-Antithesis (China)= Synthesis (NWO), then one should look a little deeper!

Element's picture

Yeah well, before we get to that one, the US and NATO are realising they may be in for a fight if they do anything further in Syria:


NATO tries to shift its blame for Syrian bloodshed on Russia

13.06.2012 | Source: Pravda.Ru
"Without going into too many details I can confirm that militarily it would be a much more complicated task," said Mr. Rasmussen in response to questions after a speech at the National Press Club in Canberra.  "All this boils down to the conclusion that a foreign military intervention is not the right path in Syria," he said. ...

 ...  "I have a very clear message to Russia. I think Russia can play an instrumental role in facilitating a political solution to the crisis in Syria," said Mr Rasmussen, who blasted the failure of the U.N. [i.e. Security Council ... i.e. RUSSIA and CHINA] to reach agreement at the Security Council level, informs MarketWatch.  Moscow believes an international conference on Syria should be held under the aegis of the UN and should bring together the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Syria's neighbours -- Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, and also Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as well as the League of Arab States and the European Union.

... more ...

Russia is sending the Russian Navy's Kaliningrad Amphibious warship to Syria with Black Beret Special Forces Marines with at least light cavalry support.  This ship and its special forces and weapons will without doubt be escorted by other warships that have anti-sub and anti-air capabilities and helicopters.  This force can of course be supported by Russian paratroops ashore.  Helicopters and armour be flown in fairly fast:

The Kaliningrad:

Moscow clearly will make a major issue out of any US or Israeli attack on Syria. 

No details yet on how many will be deployed.  Kaliningrad can carry up to 313 troops and 98 crew with up to 25 light cavalry fighting-vehicles (machine gun, cannon, missile capable) simultaneously.  Plus MANPADs and direct and indirect fire support weapons.

US attacking Syria now would lead to a phase of dangerous escalations.

PivotalTrades's picture


Japan, Germany..Post WWII,,Singapore,Austrialia,,any of the Nords,just off the top of my head.

bankonzhongguo's picture

Chabuduo xiansheng.


EmileLargo's picture

The Chinese take the long view. They are prepared to wait three decades as American excess saps its strength and power. Then they make their move. The Chinese will not foolishly try to match US defence spending as the USSR tried to do in the 1980s.

LFMayor's picture

I agree, they are quick learners and were watching intently when the paper bear fell in on itself.  Demographics will kill them a lot sooner than 30 years though.  Their time is short, the population kettle is at hard boil and they know they cannot keep the lid on it for that long.  Plastic dog shit factories have kept everyone there busy for the past 10 years, but that will soon come to an end when the exports slow and stop due to world fiat collapse.

what then?  Their hand will be forced.  Better a semi-controlled descent than an all out crash landing.

EmileLargo's picture

The "demographic problem" is overblown. Unlike the West they have not suffered a decline in birth rates due to a change in "culture." If the one child policy was terminated tomorrow, the population would start growing again.

The fiat collapse problem is going to hit everyone, not just them. Question is who will be swimming after the storm. That is a question no one can answer today.  

LFMayor's picture

Their population size and potential for growth is my whole point.  I'm understanding that China is a food importer?  Too many idle minds and idle hands is what's going to bite them in the ass.

people will do the meanest of menial jobs, bitch a little bit, then come back and do it again tomorrow.  Unless they're hungry.  Or bored. 

Worst case possible is bored and hungry.  That's why they instituted the one child policy in the first place, trying to slow down a population that was already too damn big for them to feed and to keep busy.

EmileLargo's picture

If the Chinese start eating like the averager American, I think the human race will be on its way to a very fast extinction.

LFMayor's picture

nice!  They'll start eating all right.  Long Pork.  We'll be fortunate if we don't have to as well.