Avoiding U.S.-China Competition Is Futile

Why the Best Option Is to Manage Strategic Rivalry

Published in: Asia Policy, Volume 13, Number 2 ( April 2018), Pages 91–120

Posted on RAND.org on May 02, 2018

by Timothy R. Heath, William R. Thompson

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Rising tensions between China and the U.S. have spurred fears that the two countries could end up in conflict or recreate the Cold War. To avoid these outcomes, analysts have proposed ways to defuse competition and promote cooperation. However, because these arguments do not address the structural drivers underpinning U.S.-China competition, such proposals are unlikely to end the rivalry. Conflict is not inevitable, however, and aggressive strategies that unnecessarily aggravate the sources of rivalry are likely to prove dangerously counterproductive. The best option at this point is, paradoxically, for the U.S. to accept the reality of the growing strategic rivalry and manage it at a lower level of intensity.

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