While America’s conflict with the so-called Islamic State draws the most attention these days, no security issue is more important than the difficult relationship between the United States and China. The Islamic State is a strategic nuisance that will eventually flame out and fade, but serious conflict between the U.S. and China could alter the course of history.
Since Richard Nixon’s opening to China in the 1970s, the relationship between the two sides has been complex, with cooperation on economic concerns and persistent tension in the political realm. More recently, security issues have become particularly difficult, as China has used the great improvements in its armed forces and intelligence services to challenge the U.S.-backed Asia-Pacific order.
While American leaders recognize that China’s rise is inevitable, the United States does not want to see China impose a new regional order at gunpoint. Nor do the other Asia-Pacific nations. Instead, Washington seeks a middle ground where the United States and China cooperatively manage regional security. Many China experts believe that greater military cooperation could be an important part of this and have wide-ranging positive effects.