If the next world war is to happen, it will most likely be in Asia and feature a clash between the incumbent hegemon, the United States, and the principal challenger, China. The good news is China does not want war now and in the foreseeable future, primarily because Beijing knows too well that the odds are not on its side. But if we look ahead 20 years from now, in 2034, the circumstances will have shifted significantly. There are three reasons war is unlikely anytime soon.

First, despite the double-digit annual growth in its defense budgets, China’s military still significantly lags behind the U.S.’ It will take China 15 to 20 years to attain parity or near-parity with the U.S.-Japan allied forces in the East Asian littoral.

Second, for all the talk of mutual interdependence, China depends on America much more than the other way round. China is still critically reliant on the U.S and its allies, the EU and Japan, as its principal export markets and sources of advanced technologies and know-how. Overall, China’s dependence on international markets is very high, with the trade to GDP ratio standing at 53 percent.

Third, China would have to confront not the U.S. alone but also America’s Asian allies, including Japan, Australia and perhaps India. Thus China needs at least one major power ally and some lesser allies. Whether China dares to pose a serious challenge to the U.S. will, to a large extent, hinge upon Beijing and Moscow forming a Eurasian geopolitical bloc. This is already happening now, but it is going to take some more time.

The bottom line: over the next 15 to 20 years a major war in Asia is highly unlikely because Beijing will be playing a cautious game. Even if a military clash does occur, it will be short, with China being quickly routed by the preponderant American force. However, around 2030 the balance is bound to undergo considerable changes...

There is an infinite number of alternative futures. World War III erupting in Asia may not be the most probable one, yet it is not the most implausible, either.

Kemo D. 7
Credit: Artyom Lukin
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