There is a real possibility of conflict between the US and China, a leading global think-tank has claimed.
Alarmingly, the conflict between the two powerful nations could even be carried out in space, says the American organisation RAND Corporation.
‘Although the conflict won’t be nuclear, says RAND, it could be fought in the areas of a ‘localised conflict, economic, cyber and space realms’.
The think tank adds that armed conflict between the two is ‘not likely’.
The warning comes at a time when there is growing tension between American and China’s ally, North Korea, as well as potential for a new freeze in relations between Washington and Tehran.
US President Donald Trump is expected to make an announcement on the nuclear deal with Iran negotiated by his predecessor, Barack Obama.
The study, ‘Conflict with China Revisited’, has been drawn up because Chinese air and sea defences have grown in the past six years, making it costlier for Washington to protect its long-term interests in Asia.
As these trends continue the countries could find themselves pushed closer towards conflict.
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‘Neither the United States nor China is likely to employ nuclear weapons, but even an initially localized conflict could quickly spread into the economic, cyber, and space realms, doing considerable damage to both sides,’ says RAND.
RAND says that the tensions are growing between the two countries, as China increasingly challenges the US as the major power in the region.
‘By 2030, China’s gross domestic product (GDP) could exceed that of the United States,’ it states.
‘If it chose, China could therefore become a more capable opponent than either the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany at their peak.’
The study is a follow-up from a previous study carried out by the same organisation six years ago.
In the current report it identified that conflict between the two states was most likely to begin in the South China Sea, than any dispute over Taiwan.
‘We still do not believe that a Chinese-U.S. military conflict is probable in any of the cases, but our margin of confidence is somewhat lower than it was six years ago,’ said RAND.
The think tank also called on both countries to potentially de-escalate local clashes in east Asia and calls on Washington to ‘constructively engage’ with Beijing in an effort to diffuse tensions.