China does not have a world view that is revolutionary. The Soviets did—it was a religion and it colored everything they did. That's not the Chinese. They think that they are better than everyone else, not that everyone should be like them. But they are a rising power, not defenders of a status quo. However, the rivalry is moderated by nuclear weapons. War is less likely but would be more catastrophic.
A difference is that China is not going to be able to intimidate or dominate its neighbors through its conventional capability as the Soviets dominated the Warsaw Pact, because there is no major land boundary. But it is quite possible that the Chinese and Japanese will fight, because China may over-estimate its capability. We had better be ready with a plan to de-escalate that kind of situation.
What else can be done to maintain security and avoid conflict?
Each side needs to control the elements within it that like to emphasize dangers and risks and the awfulness of the other side. Neither side has done terribly well at that. However, I really worry that the Chinese don't control their military as well as they should. There have been several incidents where communications between tactical operators and higher headquarters have been really poor.
When our military has pressed the Chinese military to start discussions, they have been very unwilling to talk. In the past I have ascribed that to the Chinese perception of inferiority that they can offset by secrecy, and that makes a lot of sense. We've talked about doing it at sea—establishing some rules of the road for the North Pacific—but that's off the table as long as the China Sea issues are where they are.
Counselor and trustee, Center for Strategic and International Studies
Birthplace: New York