A leading world defence analyst has warned that China looks set to redefine the global world order — even if it takes a catastrophic war to get there.
Strategist Graham Allison has warned the intensifying rivalry between the United States and China could lead to a war even greater than World War I, if history is anything to go by, news.com.au reports.
In a TED talk delivered earlier this month, he explained what the future holds for the rising superpower, and the pace at which China is tightening its grip on the world.
THE RAPID RISE OF CHINA
The past 100 years have been dominated by the United States, which has economically and militarily led the world. But China is fast catching up.
In 1978, it was a nation of extreme poverty. Nine out of 10 people lived on less than two American dollars a day.
But over the past four decades, China has risen at a rate faster than ever seen before — a rise that Allison argues many Americans see as "an assault on who they are".
Beijing is pouring trillions of dollars into its army, military equipment and schemes squarely aimed at expanding its global influence.
The Chinese Communist Party is making massive advancements to gain influence and power across Eurasia.
The country is projected to spend approximately US$1 trillion on its Belt and Road Initiative over the next decade — an ambitious project that will see the power at the centre of a new global trade centre.
Over the same period, China will spend another US$2 trillion on its armed forces, which are engaging in international deployment and exercises at an "unprecedented" rate.
According to the Lowy Institute's latest Asia Power Index, China is set to surpass the United States in economic size, to become the most powerful country in the Asia-Pacific region by 2030.
"The most ambitious and most competent leader on the international stage today is Chinese President Xi Jinping," explained Allison.
"And he's made no secret about what he wants. As he said when he became president six years ago, his goal is to make China great again — a banner he raised long before Donald Trump picked up a version of this. To that end, Xi Jinping has announced specific targets for specific dates: 2025, 2035, 2049."
By 2025, China is set to be the world's most dominant power in the major market in 10 leading technologies. By 2035, it hopes to be the innovation leader across these technologies.
And by 2049, it means to be the greatest nation on earth — a position, in other words, that the US has held as part of its identity for the past century.
"Are Americans and Chinese going to let the forces of history drive us to a war that would be catastrophic for both? Or can we summon the imagination and courage to find a way to survive together, to share the leadership in the 21st century, or, as Xi Jinping said, to create a new form of great power relations?" posits Allison.
He said he's had the chance to speak and listen to the leaders of all the major world governments — China, the US, South Korea and Japan — and that they're all aware of this dilemma.
"The bad news is that nobody has a feasible plan for escaping history as usual."
'A WAR MORE CATASTROPHIC THAN WWI'
In a Washington Post piece, published just before the 100th anniversary of the final day of World War I earlier this month, Allison weighed up whether a similar conflict could break out today.
"Today, the intensifying rivalry between a rising China and a ruling United States could lead to a war that neither side wants and that both know would be even more catastrophic than World War I," he wrote.
He says this follows a similar historical pattern: a rapidly-rising power challenges an established power, which has ruled for 100 years. Over the past 500 years, there has been 16 cases of this — one of the most prominent being Germany challenging the primacy of Great Britain in World War I. In 12 cases, this ended in war. Only four did not.
The power structure between China and the US is therefore a "familiar contest", says Allison.
At the moment, tensions are high between the two. President Donald Trump and Xi Jinping will go head-to-head at the G20 summit later this week, where the issue of a long-growing trade war may come front and centre.
Going forward, Allison urged people to think about how to "create worlds that should be" — as free of conflict and war as they can be.
"Let me remind you of what happened right after World War II. A remarkable group of Americans and Europeans and others, not just from government, but from the world of culture and business, engaged in a collective surge of imagination.
"And what they imagined and what they created was a new international order, the order that's allowed you and me to live our lives, all of our lives, without great power war and with more prosperity than was ever seen before on the planet.
"After World War II, Americans felt exhausted. They had demobilised 10 million troops, they were focused on an urgent domestic agenda.
"But as people began to appreciate how devastated Europe was and how aggressive Soviet communism was, Americans eventually decided to tax themselves a per cent and a half of GDP every year for four years and send that money to Europe to help reconstruct these countries, including Germany and Italy, whose troops had just been killing Americans.
"This also created the United Nations. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The World Bank. Nato. All of these elements of an order for peace and prosperity."
This, he argues, is what we need to replicate if the situation warrants it. "I think now we need a surge of imagination, creativity, informed by history.
"For, as the philosopher Santayana reminded us, in the end, only those who refuse to study history are condemned to repeat it."