There exists within the Pentagon an unshakeable line of reasoning that says the Chinese military threat to the United States in Asia is profound and growing, that the most likely great-power war conflict will be over Taiwan or the South China Sea, and that the primary trigger will be China's burgeoning -- and uncontrollable -- nationalism. Objectively, China's military capabilities are certainly growing dramatically, but our conventional wisdom tends to break down in the structural plausibility of the scenarios. That's why the firm belief that rampant nationalism will trigger an eventual conflict becomes so crucial, especially when considered in combination with an additional line of speculation that emerged earlier this year, after the Chinese military trotted out a fifth-generation fighter jet the same day that former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Beijing for confidence-building talks: At the time, Gates suggested that maybe the People's Liberation Army was getting too big for its britches, and according to those who emphasize the Chinese threat, when the Chinese Communist Party eventually caves in the face of out-of-control popular nationalism, the PLA will step in and take matters into its own hands.
Clearly, the U.S. Navy and Air Force desperately need a big-war foe in China so they can do effective bureaucratic battle against the Army and Marines in the tight budgetary years ahead. But beyond that cynical dynamic, we can't really come up with any objective reasons why China would seek war with the U.S. As a result, we reduce our strategic thinking to scenarios driven by sheer emotion.
First, let me dismiss the straw men.