China and US at high risk of stumbling into conflict over military misfire: analyst

  • Leaders of both countries have said they don’t want a war and relations are better than they were several years ago, Wang Jisi says
  • But they can still ‘lose their sense and get into a fight’

The risk of an accidental military conflict between China and the United States is high despite efforts by both countries to ease tensions, according to a senior Chinese foreign policy adviser.

In an interview with Shenzhen Satellite TV on Tuesday, Wang Jisi, president of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies at Peking University, said he was neither optimistic nor pessimistic about US-China relations this year but there was a risk of accidental conflict.

“I believe that we have a guarantee of peace. The leaders of both nations have repeatedly stressed in their conversations that they do not want a new cold war or a political war, or a hot war,” Wang said.

“But there is a possibility of a misfire, for example, over the South China Sea and Taiwan. The two countries’ militaries, such as their planes and warships, are now very close to each other. It might break out into a bigger war if there was a mishap.”

He said defence officials from both countries were working to manage the crisis, and there were mechanisms to contain the tensions.

“I don’t think there will be a large-scale war between the two countries,” Wang said.

But he added that no one would have imagined the emergence of Covid-19 three years ago, and a war between the two nations could not be ruled out.

“Something makes people lose their sense, and they get into a fight.”

Both China and the US are stepping up their military presence in the South China Sea, and close to Taiwan. Last month, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said its air and naval forces had warned off the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold after it entered the Paracel Islands. However, the US Navy denied that it had been warned off.

Wang said relations between China and the US were calmer last year than they had been for the previous three years and ties this year would be similar. But both countries would be occupied by domestic concerns, mainly the mid-term elections in the US and the Communist Party national congress in China.

The elections would push the US to look for an “external enemy”, while China was unlikely to give concessions to the US before the congress, he said.

“We can only further strengthen our vigilance against the United States,” he said, saying China would be on high alert for a “colour revolution” and over Taiwan.

“The best situation for the two countries is to maintain relatively stable ties this year, without major collisions and major setbacks. This is the best case.”

Wang, who has specialised in China-US relations for about four decades, also noted that China’s GDP was only about 10 per cent of the US in 1982, compared with 70 per cent nowadays.

He said that despite frictions over the years, including the collision of US and Chinese military jets in Hainan in 2001, their economic relations strengthened and more Chinese students went to the US to study.

Tensions between the two nations had escalated in recent years, and economic and education links had waned, with the calls for decoupling, especially in the tech sector, Wang said.

Author: Teddy Ng, SCMP

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